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Sunday, October 9, 2011

PHASE 7 -- DVD review by porfle

Less isn't always more, but in the world of low-budget filmmaking, sometimes less is enough.  PHASE 7 (2011), a sci-fi thriller from Argentina, takes place almost entirely within the same apartment building but manages to tell a pretty absorbing story about a world gone mad.

Coco (Daniel Hendler) and his pregnant wife Pipi (Jazmin Stuart) are a young couple who are so naive and self-absorbed--not to mention irritatingly stupid--that they don't even sense anything amiss when crowds of people suddenly start raiding the supermarket and crashed cars dot the roadway on their drive home.  If they'd listened to the news that day they might've picked up on the fact that there's a killer "Phase 6" virus sweeping the globe, martial law has been declared, and their apartment building has been quarantined. 

This is the beginning of a suspense tale in which the inhabitants of a building must fight not against intruders from without, but each other, as those who display symptoms of the super-flu are marked for death.  The simpleminded Coco is extremely fortunate to be friends with next-door neighbor Horacio (Yayo Guridi), a hardcore survivalist who's been getting ready for such an eventuality for some time.  Horacio supplies Coco with a hazmat suit and a gun, both of which Coco is finally forced to use when the other tenants either start getting sick or shooting at each other.

For much of the film, Daniel Hendler plays Coco with such blinking incomprehension that we want to reach into the screen and slap some sense into him.  When the enormity of his predicament finally begins to dawn on him, he then has to translate his newfound awareness to the childlike Pipi, leading to even more frustration.  Meanwhile, Horacio is leading him on a series of armed recon missions throughout the building, gathering supplies from the deceased and getting into heated gun battles. 

Best of these is a prolonged encounter with old Zanutto (Federico Luppi), whose seasonal cold has made him a target for the other tenants and who, as it turns out, is armed and ready to rumble.  When his door is broken down, he responds with a shotgun blast to somebody's head which gives the film its major moment of graphic violence.

Despite all the blood and bullets, PHASE 7 succeeds mainly as a mood piece that establishes a gloomy atmosphere of claustrophobia and paranoia (along with some subtle comedy relief) and makes us wonder how we might respond in a similar situation.  Adding to the oppressive air is the suggestion that the virus is a sinister plot to reduce the world population, with George Bush, Sr.'s "new world order" quote used to chilling effect.

Writer-director Nicolás Goldbart makes the most of the film's limited locations--the only time we leave the apartment building is when Coco and Horacio briefly venture into the trashed street--and keeps things moving at a fairly brisk pace.  As is so often the case with low-budget filmmaking of this kind, one must concentrate on character and story rather than the lack of spectacular SPFX and breakneck action. 

The DVD from Vivendi and Bloody Disgusting is in widescreen and 5.1 surround, with the option of listening to a dubbed English soundtrack or the original Spanish with English subtitles.  Extras consist of three deleted/extended scenes.

In classic B-movie tradition, PHASE 7 is one of those modest sci-fi films that manages to tell a large-scale story in small-scale terms.  It won't blow you away or anything, but it'll do nicely until something better comes along.

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