Making a thriller is a tricky balancing act. The natural impulse is to keep the picture moving at a fast pace, whittling away any beats the audience doesn't need to understand the story until all that's left are a lean 90 or even 80 minutes that leap into action quickly and don't let up. On the other hand, these kinds of thrillers often end up sacrificing story and character development in the process, essentially gambling, as they barrel forward, that excitement is all the viewer is looking for. 7 Boxes is a thriller from Paraguay which takes the road less traveled (at least these days), offering more character development at the expense of the tension. The results are not entirely unsuccessful, but the film struggles to find its footing, burdened with too many subplots and padding.
Victor (Celso Franco) is in love with the movies. Most of the time, he stands outside the video shops watching action movies, where the cool guy in sunglasses kills the bad guys and gets the girls. One day, his older sister, Tamara (Nelly Davalos) comes up to him in the market holding a cell phone with a video camera on it, and Victor is immediately entranced, even by its incredibly underwhelming 2005-era picture quality (the film is actually a period piece). Desperate to fulfill his dreams of becoming a star, he takes a delivery gig from a nervous-looking chef (Roberto Cardozo), who tells him he'll give him the other half of a torn-up $100 bill -- more than enough for the phone -- if he'll just hang onto seven crates until someone tells him to deliver them. It'd be easy if Victor wasn't unwittingly snaking the job from Nelson (Victor Sosa), who shows up late to find his payday has left without him, or if the cops weren't interested in the boxes' mysterious contents.
In a weird way, 7 Boxes is an unusually frustrating movie because it goes about its business pretty well, but not without blatant stumbles. The premise, for example, seems perfectly simple, but the filmmakers (Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori co-directed and co-wrote, with Tito Chamorro credited as a third writer) simultaneously over-complicate and under-complicate things. The chef, Gus, is looking for a courier because the cops are investigating the restaurant, but the same cops don't seem to find it suspicious that not one but two delivery people show up while they're standing out front. It's sort of clear that Victor is just meant to hang onto the boxes for the first half hour of the film, but what's not clear is how Victor plans to accomplish this; he heads off into the market without a clear time-killing plan. During this section, it's hard to get drawn into the suspense of Nelson hunting for Victor because Victor doesn't have a goal. If the viewer has no sense of where he will be safe from Nelson, the suspense is too open-ended.
After an interminable section owner of the restaurant (Paletita) and a local gangster of some sort (Nico Garcia) slowly reveal through exposition what's in the boxes (ineffectively triple-cut between the two men talking, Victor opening a box, and Tamara entering a building), the film settles into a story groove, with Victor trying to return the boxes while avoiding Nelson and the police. Unfortunately, Maneglia and Schembori struggle with effective tension-building. Moments in which Victor spots Nelson are almost always overplayed to the point of tedium. They're also shot in such a way that Nelson comes off as incredibly unobservant, failing to notice Victor on an empty street directly in front of him at least a couple of times. Only when the movie really forces Victor's hand (a runner grabs a box, Nelson and his friends surround Victor) does the film crackle with energy.
The other unexpected strength of the film is in its characterizations. There are too many characters in the film, but each one has a well-defined personality and the film basks in small humorous details about each one. A friendly cop (Manu Portillo) lusts for a girl in a cell phone shop (Liliana Alvarez), which Victor uses to his advantage. Tamara suspects her boss' son (Jin Hyuk Johnny Kim) has a crush on her, which she thinks is sweet. Victor himself is accompanied on most of his journey by Liz (Lali Gonzalez), whose argumentative nature is clearly a cover for Victor's attraction to her. The film almost waits too long to develop their story (especially as Franco's performance is sometimes a little too irritable), but Gonzalez is a fountain of charm, and the look on her face ultimately sells their big moment. In the end, there's probably more to enjoy about 7 Boxes than to complain about, but there's no denying it's a mixed bag (or box).
The DVD, Video, Audio, and Extras
7 Boxes was provided to DVDTalk in the form of a heavily-compressed DVD-R screener with burned-in subtitles and no extras, packaged in a paper sleeve. If retail copy is provided, the review will be updated accordingly.
This imported thriller is uneven -- it's almost more of a charming adventure than a pulse-pounding thriller -- but there's enough merit here to warrant a rental.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.