Friday, October 12, 2012

The Shining meets Poltergeist meets The Amityville Horror meets...: "Seven Days to Live" (2000)

This weird little effort may be the most entertaining derivative film I have seen in years.

Amanda Plummer, who is normally the best thing in her films, plays Ellen the wife of successful novelist Martin (Sean Pertwee). The couple has lost a child, and move out into rural New Hampshire so Martin can complete his comeback book. Everything seems to be going hunky dory, save the film's prologue.

Before the credits roll, we see Sheriff Farrell (Nick Brimble) and two others break down the door of a house that has been boarded up from the inside. They find a local man sitting in the corner staring at his very dead wife, who seems to have drowned...in the living room in front of the television. The house they broke into? The same one Ellen and Martin move into twenty three years later.

Things are bad from the get-go. Ellen begins hallucinating that weathermen on the radio, the steam on the mirror after a shower, and a street sign are all telling her the same thing- she has one week to live, and these innocuous everyday things are keeping a running countdown for her.

Farrell, now retired, visits Ellen and gives her a stray dog, but no information about why the creepy house stood abandoned for so long. Martin begins writing again, sometimes thirty pages in one sitting. He is moody, brooding, rude, and keeps locking the door to the basement when he comes up after spending way too much time down there.

After Ellen's dog is killed, and Ellen keeps seeing and hearing the ghost of their dead son Tommy (Eddie Cooper), she visits the insane man from the opening scene and learns the spooky origins of the house. Martin begins boarding the place up from the inside, and the climax is a battle of wills and weapons between the otherwise happily married couple.

The film is unsettling, thanks to location filming the director may not have intended. The actors sport American and British accents, and with the countryside house, I assumed the film was shot in Australia. But the cars had the steering wheels on the wrong side, and the license plates looked European, so I assumed mainland Europe. True enough, the German crew shot in southeastern Europe.

As indicated, screenwriter Dirk Ahner takes a lot of different ingredients from other horror films. Pertwee, better known from his stint on Britain's "Cold Feet," is the now clicheed frustrated writer who goes bonkers. Like Nicholson in Kubrick's "The Shining," he goes bonkers too soon. Before the bonkering commences, Plummer and Pertwee have an amazing chemistry. They seem almost like a real couple, complete with inside jokes and silliness.

While director Niemann was handed a familiar script, his camera effort is top notch. The set is impressive, and he sure knows how to stage some spooky stuff. There are a couple of CGI effects, but Niemann does not rest the entire film on them. Plummer is probably beaten and battered around more than any other actress in film history, yet her character never does anything stupid. Her smarts while battling her husband are impressive. While the finale may strain credibility, all in all this is a very good effort.

"Seven Days to Live" is a pleasant surprise, not scriptwise, but buoyed by strong performances and a sure directorial hand. (* * * *) out of five stars.