Séptimo (Seventh Floor) Review

Posted: August 20, 2014 in Foreign, Reviews, Thriller
Tags: , , , ,

septimo-4The landmark television series Twin Peaks initially focused on the death of the young, beautiful homecoming queen Laura Palmer and the subsequent search for her killer. The creator of the series, the visionary director David Lynch, had no intention of ever solving the mystery in the course of the show, but rather planned to use the murder as the springboard for an exploration of the underside of small town America. Lynch was eventually forced by the network to reveal the killer. In doing so, Twin Peaks lost its special quality and was canceled at the end of its second season. This cautionary tale comes to mind when seeing the Spanish-Argentinian thriller, Séptimo (Seventh Floor). The build up in the first half of the film is such exquisite, stylized suspense that the viewer wants it to continue as long as possible. When an explanation appears and a resolution follows, the movie almost immediately becomes a pedestrian procedural.

Sebastián (Ricardo Darín) is a hot shot lawyer in Buenos Aires on the way to the big time via his role in a showcase trial that is dominating the headlines. He’s due in court in an hour, where his client, his boss, and the press are waiting, but first, it’s his turn to take the kids to school. Father knows best in this case, even if Dad is separated from his wife (Belén Rueda) and children, so he enters the apartment without knocking, spurns the spouse’s attempt to have him sign the divorce papers that will allow her and the kids to return to Spain, and then races his son and daughter in an elevator-versus-stairs challenge to see who can get to the ground floor quickest, contrary to his wife’s specific instructions.

The problem is that somewhere between the seventh floor and the lobby, the children disappear. Director Patxi Amezuca and his screenwriting partner Alejo Flah capture and present the subsequent moments perfectly as Sebastián goes from exasperation to bafflement to anger to despair. Darín as Sebastián is spot on in his portrayal of a man on the verge of being a Master of the Universe in his own mind, shrinking almost instantaneously into a vulnerable, frightened parent suffering the worst wideawake nightmare imaginable. Belén Rueda as his wife is almost as good as the pair tear through the building and the possible suspects that come to mind.

In the early going, the film does veer dangerously close to being an old-fashioned Agatha Christie whodunit as straw man suspects are propped up and then almost immediately knocked down. What keeps the story from descending into a formulaic narrative is the cat-and-mouse game that director Amezuca engages in with the audience. Aided by strong supporting performances from Osvaldo Santoro as a police inspector who lives on the third floor and Luis Ziembrowski as Miguel the building’s concierge, the director masterfully tightens the strings of suspense until we find out what’s really going on.

The last part of the film plays out predictably, and the bedrock logic that anchored the script throughout the early going disappears. The motivations and reactions of key characters become implausible; consequences are ignored. The film finishes as a rather ordinary exercise that almost wipes away the memory of its riveting first half.

Three stars.

 

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