Allow me to take you back in time. Take yourself back to the last time a film made you numb. More than just stopping you in your tracks, but truly robbing you of your motor functions and forcing you to sit and look straight ahead, watching no matter how painful the images in front of you may be. The last time this happened for me (oddly enough) was here, at Sundance, when I saw Precious (then called Push) on the final day of the ’09 fest. It seems fitting that I would be once again frozen here in Park City. This time it is at the hands of first time director Daniel Grou and his French Canadian revenge thriller 7 Days.
The film opens with perhaps one of the affecting pre-title card sequences I’ve seen in a long time, unveiling the story of a young girl who is brutally raped and murdered. As the title card creeps near, we are forced to watch a father (Claude Legault) hover over the mangled body of his once vivacious daughter. The scene is heart-stopping, and filmed with careful, clean and intimate shots that hint at the brutality that is to come. With his daughter gone, we watch the father slowly and methodically plot revenge on the killer, who is quickly apprehended by police. He finds a way to steal the killer (Martin Debreuil) back from the police and take him to a secluded cabin, where a week of pain awaits.
I mention the opening sequence and its subtle brutality because it is simply the tip of an iceberg of almost unwatchable, but mesmerizing proportions. The father, Bruno (a doctor by day), opens the torture by simply breaking the man’s knee with a sledgehammer. We are there to watch of course, as the shot is held in wide frame – the man’s bone cracking and his lungs emptying with cries of inexplicable agony. Again, this is the tip of the iceberg. Grou and cinematographer Bernard Couture continue to bombard us with brutal imagery the likes of which I have not seen since The Passion of the Christ. The camera is slow, methodical and always moving smoothly. The aesthetic is ice cold, and the bloody third act is a deep purple mess of brilliance that would make movies like Law Abiding Citizen, Taken or Von Trier’s Antichrist run for the hills.
The icy nature of the film is driven not only by the visceral sights and the scoreless, eerily quiet at-all-times aesthetic of the film, but also by the tortured performance of Claude Legault, who is absolutely brilliant. Bruno is calculated at first, a stone-cold symbol of vengeance whose mere presence in the room with his victim will send chills up your spine. But as the film moves on, Legault adds layer upon layer to his character. This is a man who is deeply disturbed by what he’s doing, but fighting to remain focused and vigilant as he enacts unfathomable pain upon his prisoner.
It goes without saying at this point in the review that this is not a film for everyone. The weak stomached and weak at heart will be damaged by the visceral nature of this film, and the even the hardest torture porn junkie will cringe. Why? Because unlike the “torture porn” fad that exists today, this film works on you on an emotional level. You connect with the plight of the main character, and commit to seeing it through, no matter the outcome. 7 Days sets itself in a class of the must see unwatchables, a rare class of movie. It is a soul-stabbing thriller that is an affecting and unmissable experience, but one you’ll likely never want to have again.
Side Note: For those interested in following my glowing recommendation, you too can (probably) see 7 Days today, as it is launching on VOD in most major U.S. Markets. It is part of the Sundance Selects VOD rollout. Check your local cable provider for availability.