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October 2010

7 Days

cast: Claude Legault, R�my Girard, Martin Dubreuil, and Fanny Mallette

director: Daniel Grou

106 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
E1 DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Jonathan McCalmont

7 Days

Based on the novel Les Sept Jours du Talion (2002) by the Quebecois author Patrick Sen�cal (who also wrote this film's screenplay), 7 Days (aka: Les 7 jours du talion) is a disturbing examination of one man's descent into savagery. Filmed in a grittily realistic fashion that reinforces the seriousness of the film's central theme, 7 Days certainly makes for harrowing viewing. However, despite a high-minded script, some decent performances and a laudable willingness to allow the film's themes and atmospheres to speak for themselves, 7 Days is ultimately let down not only by its failure to say anything new but also its failure to trust its own source material.

Bruno Hamel (Claude Legault) is a surgeon and a family man. Living in the suburbs with his wife (Fanny Mallette) and daughter, his personality is one of a doting father and a peacefully sensitive husband. One day, while he is napping, Hamel's daughter Jasmine disappears. After a brief search, Jasmine's pale white body turns up in some woods. An ugly crime perpetrated by a careless killer who is swiftly brought to book by the psychologically fragile detective Mercure (R�my Girard).

Mercure assures Hamel and his wife that the killer will go to prison for 20 to 25 years, but this is not enough for Hamel. Wracked with guilt, the surgeon abducts the killer (Martin Dubreuil) from police custody and takes him to an isolated cabin in the woods. Hamel informs the local media that he will torture the killer for a period of seven days before killing him and turning himself in. The clock is ticking. Mercure, himself the father of a murdered child, races to track Hamel down not in order to save the murderous paedophile but in order to save what is left of Hamel's decaying humanity. By torturing and killing the paedophile, Hamel is also torturing and killing the peaceful family man he once was. The question is, will Mercure get to Hamel before he erases all traces of the man he once was?

Visually speaking, 7 Days is an impressive piece of work. Shot at an amazingly sedate pace through the icy chill of a blue filter, the film depicts a cold and alien world in which only the love of a child can provide shelter. By killing Hamel's child, the killer also deprived Hamel of shelter. Forced out into the coldness of the world, Hamel begins to change. 7 Days' torture sequences are amongst the most disturbing I have seen this side of a film by Gaspar Noe.

Early on, Hamel breaks one of the killer's legs with a sledgehammer before leaving him to spend the night hopping on one foot as he screams in pain with every second of lost balance or snatched rest. From there we move on to brutal beatings, un-necessary surgery and horrific abductions, all of which are then promptly followed by bouts of self-harm as Hamel desperately punishes himself for the atrocities he is committing. All of this is shot in a painstakingly realistic fashion. The world of 7 Days is not only cold; it is encrusted with dried blood, smeared shit and the pus that drips from an untreated surgical incision.

Legault does an excellent job of portraying a man who is not so much falling apart as cannibalising his old personality as he slowly mutates from a peaceful family man to a hideously detached psychopath built purely to exact vengeance. The transformation is complete when Hamel sees the mother of one of the killer's victims on TV expressing her distaste for what he is doing. This prompts him to abduct her from her home, in an act eerily reminiscent of the killer's own methodology.

Unfortunately, while 7 Days is a well-made and undeniably high-minded piece of filmmaking, it is not a particularly original one. Indeed, Hamel's moral conflict over killing the murderer of his child rapidly becomes repetitive as the film sorts itself into a cycle of torture, self-harm and self-justification. This repetition not only serves to deaden the impact of Hamel's violence, it also fails to offer very much insight into Hamel's psychological state as he spends much of the film sitting alone between a frozen river and a dead deer that handily symbolise his decaying humanity. Indeed, it is worth noting that in Patrick Sen�cal's original novel, much more is made of Hamel's relationship with the media.

By devoting so much of his novel to the media's depiction of Hamel's crimes, Sen�cal effectively exteriorises his character's internal moral battlefield. When vox pops and talking heads present arguments for or against torturing the killer, these sound-bites illustrate the thoughts going through Hamel's head. By involving the media, Hamel is effectively allowing his descent into savagery to take place entirely in the public sphere. As a result, when Hamel decides to abduct the mother of one of the killer's victims, he is not only turning his new capacity for violence against one of the 'good guys' he is also turning it against himself in the form of his newly public and exteriorised conscience.

By de-emphasising the role of the media in Hamel's moral conflict, Sen�cal's script ultimately denies us access to Hamel's mind, which is where the bulk of the story's action takes place. Indeed, robbed of this externalised morality, 7 Days comes across merely as a watered down version of either Claude Chabrol's This Man Must Die (1969), or Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs (1971). It offers us nothing that we have not seen before.

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