The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Phase 7

Phase 7 is the second in a summer-long series of horror films presented by Bloody Disgusting and The Collective that are coming to AMC theaters in 30 top markets. It opens on July 13, and will play Wednesday and Friday nights throughout the month.

Horror movies about contagions are nothing new, but the Argentinean thriller Phase 7 mostly makes you forget that fact. Whereas it is common for such a story to focus on who catches the virus and who doesn't, this one chooses to explore the psychology that goes along with trying to stay alive in a desperate situation. The focus is on a handful of people who desperately want not to get sick.

In the opening minutes, we meet Coco (Daniel Hendler) and his seven-months pregnant wife Pipi (Jazmin Stuart). They're getting some groceries and are so busy bickering that they fail to notice the panic starting around them. Once back at their apartment, they learn that a pandemic has broken out. The building is quarantined, forcing them to stay inside for an undetermined period of time. Coco doesn't want to alarm Pipi, and therefore does not tell her that some of the neighbors are acting strangely. In particular, there's an old man named Zanutto (played by Federico Luppi, of Guillermo del Toro's wonderful Pan's Labyrinth and Cronos) who's wandering the halls with a shotgun. Coco's best bet for ensuring safety seems to be teaming up with Horacio (Yayo Guridi), a tough-guy neighbor determined to eliminate any potential threat from Zanutto, who he believes is hiding infection. But, of course, the old man is more durable than he looks.

Phase 7 was written and directed by Nicolas Goldbart, who provides the film with a striking visual style. Of particular interest is the way he uses colored lights to highlight the drama in certain scenes. A tense confrontation between Zanutto and Horacio, for instance, is lit entirely by one of those green glow sticks. It's eerie. Goldbart also displays a penchant for sharp, sudden bursts of violence that catch you off guard. There's not a ton of gore in Phase 7, but when there is, it's appropriately jolting.

While it moves at a brisk pace and has a sufficient number of shock moments, what makes the film most interesting is way it explores the paranoia created in extreme situations. The threat inside the apartment building is almost as treacherous as the one outside. Horacio doesn't know for sure whether Zanutto is infected, only that he's acting strangely. Coco, therefore, isn't sure whether eliminating the man is wise or foolish. If Zanutto is sane, then neutralizing him would mean having one less ally against others in the building, who are also arming themselves. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that Horacio is going off the deep end himself. With everyone intent on surviving at all costs, Coco is never completely sure who to follow. He knows he must choose wisely, because the life of his unborn child hangs in the balance. That is the kind of dilemma Phase 7 explores.

The performances are quite good, with the great Federico Luppi again doing strong character work. There's also a macabre sense of humor running throughout the story that I really enjoyed. Phase 7 would have benefited from developing the relationship between Coco and Pipi a little more, and some of the supporting characters are a little too thinly sketched. Even with those slight weaknesses, this is overall a very involving and ambitious movie, with some new angles from which to approach the contagion theme. Phase 7 is slick, smart horror.

( out of four)

Phase 7 is rated R for strong bloody violence, and language . The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.