Written by: Alexandre Moratto & Thayná Mantesso
Starring: Christian Malheiros, Rodrigo Santoro, Bruno Rocha, Vitor Julian, Lucas Oranmian
The comfortable lives we live on a daily basis come because of the hard-hitting labor others need to endure in order to lift up society. This has always been the reality of the way civilizations work, but now it’s more hidden than ever even with it being completely out in the open. 7 Prisoners shows the horrors of this reality and how it impacts people in the present in tragic and cyclical ways.
Mateus (Christian Malheiros) comes from a humble family in a small rural Brazilian town and he gets presented with the opportunity to do some laborious work in a São Paulo junkyard for lodging and wages that can be sent back to his family. When he and other young men from his town make their way to the city for this employment opportunity, they learn this prospect turns into a heinous predicament.
Following the thrills and genuine scares of 7 Prisoners comes with so much surprise with the ultimately chilling realization of it being something most likely occurring all over the world. The film has no qualms in displaying this harsh reality where it makes no mistake in the way we each play into it. While it may not be in an exact way it occurs within a city, but perhaps internationally. Simply look at your shoes or the smartphone in your pocket as an example of the way we’re all complicit in this. This film demonstrates the shame we should have about this while also indicating what it means to survive such an ordeal.
If things were not made explicitly clear, this feature shows young men being sold to indentured servitude in all reality and have found themselves in a hole they can likely never dig themselves out of through no fault of their own. From the beginning, it starts out with Mateus but the way it shifts presents some fascinating moral quandaries that ask the audience what they would do should they ever find themselves in this unfortunate circumstance. It becomes difficult to judge the actions of Mateus as he progresses through this hellscape but it follows the very same message all throughout: to succeed others need to be put down somehow.
In this way, the narrative in this feature carries the tension of its original premise but also the only strategic form of escape does not come with a happy ending for all. No fairytales here, that’s for sure as these young men need to make decisions as a collective hoping for the success of all when that was just never going to happen. It forces a harsh reality in the world and how Mateus’s journey transpires in this feature truly captures it all in scintillating style.
On a visual level, this feature has such a grungy look to it, which makes sense considering these men barely get enough amenities to even take a shower. You can just tell the quarters they share must smell with some immense body odor but this translates to the other characters as well. Luca (Rodrigo Santoro) has this unkempt look to him as he serves as the bridge between this essential slave trade and where everything goes circulating to the top. It creates a very thin divide between the haves and have-nots while demonstrating just how close they are in proximity without even knowing it. This film certainly does not present the best advertisement for São Paulo as a city.
The acting battle on display with Christian Malheiros and Rodrigo Santoro is really something else. The way their characters’ relationship fluctuates throughout the feature makes for such an intriguing thread to follow as it falls into adversarial to a reluctant brotherhood as it becomes necessary. Malheiros maintains a distinct level of rage behind his eyes no matter the occasion, even in the attempts to butter up Luca for his own safety. Something that definitely makes sense given the occasion but it never gets oversold. Pair that with the scoundrel nature of Santoro’s presentation of Luca. Paternal while always being a scumbag, Santoro does so well in crafting this character.
Difficult to get through because of the stress of it all while also having an incredibly important social message, 7 Prisoners shines a light on a reality we all want to ignore. Accepting the fact we live in societies powered through the backs of individuals not given the same opportunities and treated in a heinous way. This feature is unafraid to show it all and the terrible impact it has on the individuals trapped in the cycle where breaking out never becomes an option with conforming lasting out as the way to survive.