Wednesday, 15 January 2014

7 Days (2010)

When a parent loses a child, their grief is unimaginable, and often a parent will find their mind focussing and fixating obsessively on something else, as a coping mechanism; anything is better than facing the truth of the massive loss. This is the principle chillingly applied to Daniel Grou’s terrific horror/drama “7 Days”, which sees a father capturing Anthony Lemaire, the man who raped and murdered his eight year old daughter, taking him to a secluded cabin in the woods, and brutally torturing him for the titular seven days.

If it sounds like gruesome exploitation in the vein of Saw, Hostel, and so on, then carry on reading, because this film leaves those in the dust. It is explicit in its torture scenes, yes, but not frequently so, and it surrounds the brutal premise with fleshed out characters who feel real and react believably. It puts other films of this ilk to shame.

The father is called Bruno Hamel, played excellently by Claude Legault. He is sleeping when his daughter goes missing, and he had taken the phone off the hook so nobody could disturb him; naturally he blames himself, and he wants justice. His wife Sylvie (Fanny Mallette) also blames herself, even if she lacks the helpless determination of her husband; after all, it was their lovemaking which meant that they sent the daughter out to give party invitations on their own. The film is good at this, these little observations which accumulate in times of loss and grief and guilt. “Your daughter was being raped while you were having an orgasm!”, Bruno cruelly accuses at one point in the film.

The characters, then, are real, and they are surrounded by a film which treats them with respect. The style is formal, bordering on Hanekeian, and the entire film is shot with a certain washed-out, tired colour pallet which is dominated by greys and dark browns. It also doesn’t forget the little details, such as Bruno’s white t-shirt getting steadily more covered in blood as the film goes on, and the torture accumulates. The script is clever, filling the film with minimal dialogue and lots of quieter, more thoughtful moments (look at the dead deer which slowly decomposes outside the cabin Bruno is operating in, for example.)

There are supporting players who are the key to this film. The paedophile in question is convincingly portrayed by Martin Dubreuil, a sadistic and pathetic creation who first smiles at the camera when he is captured, and then goes through denial, a fierce confessional, and ends up taunting Bruno to bring about his death quicker. Perhaps the most important role in the film is Remy Girard playing a police officer called Herve Mercure, a weary, tired, portly figure who lost his wife six months earlier in a futile robbery, and has spent those six months obsessing over the video footage of the killing. He understands what Bruno is going through, and his efforts to find him are not to arrest him, but to save him. There are a number of well-written conversations between Bruno and Herve, in which the two reach a quiet, sad understanding of each other.

Indeed, Bruno couldn't be further from a cruel and sadistic creature driven by revenge; such archetypes belong in different, lesser films. As the film progresses, Bruno comes to see the futility of his actions, and slowly becomes wracked with guilt. One of the film’s most effective sequences sees him capturing the mother of a child who Lemaire killed because she said “that man doesn’t exist to me”, and placing her in the same room as him for a time. It cleverly signifies how Bruno is seeking validation for his sins, because it can’t come from inside himself.

And this is the kind of film it is, quietly observant, thoughtful, and very, very sad. It understands the grief and horror of a parent losing a child, and it does not judge his actions. No doubt every parent feels like Bruno does upon going through what he does. But the film also knows that violence is wrong and cannot be condoned, no matter what the circumstances are. As Bruno is asked upon his arrest at the end of the film (which isn’t a spoiler, because the film lays out pretty clearly how it is going to end from the beginning), “Do you think vengeance is the answer?” “No”.

“Do you regret what you did?”


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