Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 95 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Age Appropriate for: Definitely 15+. It is bloody and there is cursing, but it’s not incredibly graphic or vile. There is an exploding head and some close-ups of bleeding wounds, but it’s not overwhelmingly terrifying or unsettling.
“Phase 7” is the third film in a summer series exclusive to Baltimore’s AMC White Marsh theater until the end of August. The series, a collaboration between AMC, entertainment management company The Collective and horror website BloodyDisgusting.com, will bring a different horror movie from international and festival film circuits to White Marsh each month. Chesapeake Family will review the entire series; “Phase 7” runs until the end of July, while the next film, “Cold Fish,” hits theaters in August.
Move ‘Shaun of the Dead’ to Argentina, add the wonderful actor Federico Luppi and a slacker-turned-warrior protagonist and you’ll get the surprisingly enjoyable ‘Phase 7.’ And — get this — though you never really see a zombie in this zombie flick, you won’t really miss them.
By Roxana Hadadi
Zombie movies are defined by the undead. Their garish wounds, their creepy methods of movement, their unceasing desire for flesh — the grosser the zombie, the more impactful the film. And for fans of zombies on the small screen, the people behind the comic book adaptation of “The Walking Dead” on AMC are even selling custom-made busts of undead heads, with real human hair. Ew.
So you would think that “Phase 7,” an Argentine zombie flick somewhat similar to Germany’s “Rammbock,” featured earlier this summer in the White Marsh summer horror series, would follow that same formula of disgusting rotting corpses coming alive and chasing after humans. But in “Phase 7,” you barely see any of the infected, any of the inevitable dead — but you won’t even miss them, thanks to a solid story from writer and director Nicolás Goldbart and good turns from actors Federico Luppi (a favorite of director Guillermo del Toro; they’ve worked together on a few different films), Daniel Hendler, Jazmín Stuart and Yayo Guridi.
The movie’s understanding of the inherent claustrophobia and gossip that come with living in apartment building, coupled with the silly spats between competitive lovers and unknown neighbors, give the film enough humor and satire to make the slow build and lack of gory violence gratifyingly worth it. In “Shaun of the Dead” we had characters aware of the plot devices of zombie flicks and using that knowledge to fight back; “Phase 7” doesn’t have that same self-aware quality, but it takes time building relationships between characters who love each other but are struggling to stand one another and others who are basically strangers but are forced to trust each others’ judgment. Much like in “28 Days Later,” the humans of “Phase 7” have to pick and choose who to ally themselves with — and they also have to decide how far those partnerships can really go.
A quiet grocery store is where we meet Coco (Hendler) and his wife Pipi (Stuart), who are expecting a daughter in about two months and are in every way your typical married couple: The two are so wrapped up in their bickering about candy choices and their budget that they don’t notice a hectic crowd clustering into the store as they check out, or the numerous police sirens screaming in the distance as they drive back home. “Every time we go to the supermarket, you get grumpy,” Pipi says, but little does she know what’s coming — according to the news, a virus is spreading throughout the country and the world. “Further spread is considered inevitable,” the news says, and soon everyone is encouraged to avoid physical contact with others, stay inside and watch for symptoms like nausea and hallucinations.
Those messages are reinforced by officials who gather the apartment building’s tenants in the lobby to discuss the place being put under quarantine; compared to the other older male residents, Coco’s heavy metal T-shirt, shaggy hair and shrugged nonchalance sharply stand out. His only friend is Horacio (Guridi), who seems more authoritative in his decision to “say nothing” to officials. And then, just like that, the loneliness begins: Coco makes a ration plan for himself and Pipi, but they become extremely bored when the Internet goes down; the same games get infuriating when played over and over again; the Froot Loops running out is like a serious tragedy. “If you want to go mad, go mad alone,” Pipi said to Coco when he started counting all their food, but after such exasperating loneliness, who wouldn’t be tearing at the walls?
A decision to get more involved with the neighbors’ affairs saves Coco’s boredom, but also tugs him into an ideological dialogue with Horacio and a bloody war with the rest of the residents. Horacio notices that some of the tenats are turning against the building’s oldest resident, Zanutto (Luppi), so he and Coco decide to help the older man out, but what are Horacio’s motives? Does his romantic notion of a “new world order,” aided by the epidemic, mean he’s willing to give up anyone for his dream? Is the residents’ strange behavior brought on by cabin fever, or the mysterious infection? And will Coco ever beat Pipi at Battleship?
“Phase 7” deals with typical zombie movie themes, like isolation and misplaced trust, but its slow pace is what helps audiences get to honestly know these characters. Coco and Pipi banter and snip at each other, but it’s clear his overwhelming desire to protect her is what keeps the two together, even if Pipi hates his facial hair. Zanutto and Horacio seem like quiet guys, but the clues that they may be more — Zanutto’s affection for his dog, Horacio’s well-stocked car and apartment — are given in a slow, measured manner. And even a scene as goofy as Coco doing gangster impersonations in the mirror takes on new weight, as we see the silly twentysomething forced to take on a more violent persona — one that doesn’t really match up with what he imagined — as the film progresses.
But Goldbart hasn’t created a flawless work. While its first 45 minutes go slow and steady, the second half of “Phase 7” ratchets up the action and violence, moving at such a fast pace that characters’ motivations are sometimes unclear. Also frustrating are the film’s subtitles, which often have grammatical or spelling errors, or are missing words altogether. It’s not like you can’t understand the film when reading them, but it’s not a completely accurate capture of what the actors are saying.
And yet, “Phase 7” does have at least one exploding head, a fair amount of treachery and backstabbing and one final twist that helps the film wrap up in a satisfyingly upbeat way. Zombie movies don’t usually make audiences happy, but “Phase 7,” with its mixture of humor, violence and realistic story, should give viewers reasons to both chuckle and gasp.