Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fase 7 / Phase 7

In a 1959 Cahiers du cinema essay entitled Little Subjects, critic and new wave filmmaker Claude Chabrol contrasted two imaginary films, on ‘The Apocalypse of Our Time’ and ‘The Quarrel Between Our Neighbours’, or on big and the small subject. Chabrol suggested that the two paradigms were structurally more similar than might first be apparent and that, contrary to appearances, the small subject was actually the richer, in that it allowed the filmmaker scope to explore form and content alike.

I mention this because Fase 7 could be taken as a test case for Chabrol's thesis some half a century on. For while being about a big subject, namely a mysterious plague sweeping the globe and bringing about the end of the world as we know it, it takes a small subject approach by focusing upon a young couple expecting their first child and four or five other families living in their Buenos Aires apartment block.

In terms of content, it thus has obvious affinities with the likes of [Rec] and Shivers, but downplays the horror angle and plays up the human drama. It is also somewhat more plausible in terms of the details of the plague itself: Those who contract it seem to sicken and die, but don't turn into homicidal maniac zombie-types in a matter of minutes.

This also contributes to the deliberate weakening of the horror film's traditional us/them human/monster division. These are all just more or less ordinary people trapped in an extraordinary situation, understandably suspicious of one another's equally understandable motives. Everyone has their reasons, as Renoir’s The Rules of the Game famously puts it.

The most interesting characters amongst the small ensemble are father-to-be Coco and the enigmatic Horacio. Depending on perspective, Horacio is either a conspiracy-theory advancing survivalist paranoiac or the one who best understands the situation and how to deal with it.Coco, meanwhile, displays an understandable scepticism at his neighbour’s seemingly far-fetched theories and is, particularly by generic standards, unusually reluctant to become a gun-toting survivalist type.

The relationship between Coco and his wife Pipi is less developed over the course of the narrative, however. Being heavily pregnant, she remains in the family’s apartment for most of the duration, deliberately kept apart from what is going on elsewhere in the block; here, however, it should be noted that no-one really knows what is going on in the wider world as communication quickly break down.

This is mirrored formally by the transformation of the interior spaces as they become increasingly dark and threatening, occasionally lit only with eerily glowing blue-purple ultraviolet and green glow-stick lights. While the film is not devoid of gore, the latter also allows for a nicely parodic action scene as characters blaze away at one another apparently ineffectually – or at least ineffectually by conventional film standards, if not those pertaining within the film’s particular world.

There are a few flaws. The opening scene of the couple’s quiet supermarket trip suddenly being replaced with panic-buying mobs seems a bit sudden, for instance, as does a jump of a number of days signalled by Coco's suddenly acquiring a beard. But thanks to the general levels of intelligence evident behind and in front of the camera, it works far more often than not.

The comfortable-enough middle class world presented helps internationalise the production, beyond its global pandemic narrative, while the presence of Guillermo Del Toro favourite Federico Luppi and a John Carpenter-esque soundtrack are further plusses.

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