As a parent, the one nightmare I always live with is if one of my children disappeared. I am glued to the television when there is news of JonBenet Ramsey or of Natalee Holloway. I am riveted by the trial of Elisabeth Smart’s kidnapper. It isn’t a prurient interest that I have; I am not excited by the lurid details. Rather, it is a sympathy with the parents–that only other parents can have–that causes these stories to touch me. As I imagine if I were to lose a child, I waffle on whether I would want to know the details of his or her death. Would it be better not to know, or would I feel the need to know every gory detail, the better to suffer with my dead child? Would I rather the child just disappear, as if erased from the face of the Earth, or would I want to find the body, which would then mean details revealed that would haunt me forever? Which is worse: imagination or reality? As a parent, this is a real fear that I feel.
Bruno Hamel is a surgeon who lives with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, Jasmine. One day Bruno arrives home early in the morning after a long night of surgery. His daughter wants his help to deliver her birthday invitations before going to school and his wife wants to fool around, but all he wants is some sleep. So he sends Jasmine to walk through the neighborhood alone to deliver the invitations before walking to school–something she does alone on a regular basis–takes care of his wife’s needs, and promptly crashes for some much-needed rest.
When Bruno awakens, it is in the late afternoon. As his wife arrives home, they both realize that Jasmine should have been home hours ago. The police are called and a frantic search occurs. Jasmine’s body is found in a field not far from her home; she has been raped and strangled. But the police take only a few days to track down the killer, a pedophile from a nearby town. While the police are happy to have sealed the case so quickly, Bruno, consumed with guilt, concocts his own plan for vengeance. Telling his wife he needs to work to keep his mind off the case, he steals equipment from the hospital and rents a dilapidated and isolated cottage in the woods where he sets up his own private torture chamber. Kidnapping the killer during a routine transport from court to jail, he secretes the murderer in the cottage just one week before his beloved Jasmine would have turned nine. His plan is to torture the man for seven days, killing him on the anniversary of his daughter’s birthday.
If you think this sounds like the plot for a torture-porn film, then you are correct. However, this is not your average torture-porn film. It is never lurid and overly gory like the Hostel or Saw films; neither is it as brutal as some of the other torture-porn films out there (The Butcher comes to mind). While there are a couple of gory set pieces, I found the film quite reserved for the genre; much of the torture takes place off-screen. While it still is not a film for the squeamish, Seven Days isn’t made to just portray some cool effects and to gross out the audience. I found the film remarkably reflective on emotions such as grief and despair.
Bruno is grief-stricken as any parent would be and blames himself for his daughter’s death, and even though his wife never overtly says so, he knows she blames him as well. He knows his daughter died a painful death and he is in terrible emotional pain himself. All Bruno wants is to pass along that pain to his daughter’s killer. But along the way, Bruno is forced to confront his emotions as well as the emotions of those surrounding him. The killer initially begs and pleads with Bruno, but after awhile, knowing there is no escape, the killer makes his confession, reveling in telling Bruno all the gory details of Jasmine’s death, perhaps even embellishing to create further emotional trauma for Bruno. Is this what Bruno expected? Is he causing himself even more pain by committing these acts against the killer?
Bruno calls his wife and asks her what tortures she would like him to perform on the killer, but his wife declines to become involved, begging Bruno to turn himself into the police. Bruno is taken aback and yells at his wife. "I know you think this is all my fault!" he screams at her. Finally voicing her accusations, she blames him for sleeping through the phone call the school made to their house the morning of the death. Maybe if he had answered, Jasmine could have been found in time. "It’s not my fault…all you were concerned about was your orgasm!" he screams into the phone. Bruno is even more miserable now that he understands that his wife wants no part in his vengeance. There will be no redemption for him now.
And during the killer’s confession, he admits to murdering four other little girls. Bruno leaks the news to the press. Watching TV, he is surprised and angered to hear one mother tell a reporter she is not interested in knowing about her child’s killer–she has moved on. Bruno is incensed. How can a parent move on after a child’s death? He kidnaps the woman and brings her to the torture chamber and tries to force her to torture her child’s killer. She refuses, telling Bruno "By doing this, it is like you have killed my daughter all over again. It took me four long years to forget and to move on. Now I have to start all over again." Now Bruno has inadvertently opened old wounds.
Ultimately, the police track Bruno down on the seventh day. Does he kill his daughter’s murderer? Does Bruno himself make it out alive? These questions must be answered only by viewing the movie. While there are some fairly gross scenes here, the film is really about love, guilt, and redemption. There is no soundtrack in the film, the director choosing to let either the screams of the tortured or the crying of the guilt-ridden move the viewer. While this film must be lumped into the torture-porn subgenre, that is really an injustice as this is also a remarkable human drama. In my imagination, I think I would do the same to my child’s killer as Bruno has done to his child’s killer. But has this brought any redemption to Bruno, any closure? It certainly didn’t bring his daughter back to life.
Maybe this film connected with me because I, too, am a parent. Maybe it won’t make the same connection for others who don’t have children. I found myself willing to accept flaws in the plausibility of the plot because the film did resonate with me so much. For instance, why would anyone let their 8-year-old child wander town alone? I don’t care how small and safe the town is–not in this day and age. And why would the police allow Bruno to trample all over the crime scene when they found the body of his child? So the movie is not perfect, but it presented enough of a different approach that I was willing to overlook these problems. Ultimately, you may dismiss this film as another in the never-ending spate of torture-porn flicks, but as a parent, I was not able to dismiss it so readily. I found it to be both unnerving as well as thoughtful and reflective.