The press release for Teddy Schenck’s 7E proclaim it a “spine-tiggling thriller” “in the shadow of Rosemary’s Baby.” It is neither of those things. What it is, however, is a deeply interesting character study about consequences and a guy slowly losing his mind. Or gaining back his sanity – either interpretation works. The film takes place almost entirely inside an apartment building – a great place for someone to lose their mind, as Polanski has shown time and time again.
A film like this, with a compressed setting and very small cast, relies on a strong lead. Thankfully, what shortcomings 7E has can be overlooked because of the powerful performance of Brendan Sexton III (Session 9). This kid is damn good and his skills are front and center in 7E. He plays Clyde, a high-strung chain-smoker whose uncle asks him to keep an eye on his younger cousin Kate (Antonella Lentini). Her roommate recently killed himself, which has left her traumatized and bedridden.
Clyde, who’s dealing with his own form of grief following the recent death of a friend, crashes on the couch of Kate’s NYC apartment and makes sure she takes her meds. Sounds like a sweet gig. Free room and board – ya can’t beat that in NYC. Then Clyde’s curiosity gets the best of him. He starts snooping around the bedroom of the deceased roommate. There he finds some photos and newspaper clippings concerning Sadie, a local bartender who was raped and murdered. These curious hints flick a switch in Clyde’s brain and he goes in full-on private investigator mode. If no one can find the killer of his friend, then he’ll find the bastard who killed Sadie.
But 7E isn’t about solving the crime. Instead, the film focuses on tone and Clyde’s dissolving psyche. In between about 5,000 cigarette breaks, he sees foreboding visions of sex and violence. The two other tenants in the building he meets are either shady or genuinely concerned about Katie’s well-being – Clyde can’t tell the difference. Amplifying his paranoia is Kate’s nightly delusion that someone is in her room. Everything about the apartment building seems to be adding weight to Clyde’s psychosis – even the oscillating fan that’s on the fritz.
With emotions ranging from chill to berserker barrage, Sexton III nails this role. He’s really good at looking like there’s always a bomb about to go off in the room that only he knows about. It’s a sweaty, anxious, and genuinely vulnerable performance. The kid’s always been one hell of an actor, from Welcome to the Dollhouse to The Killing. He may not be a huge star, but he’s constantly challenging himself. In 7E, he really blew me away.
Schenck doesn’t offer much closure at the end and a lot of plot points are left ambiguous, but 7E really isn’t about the mysteries at the heart of its story. It’s more about if finding closure is bullshit or consoling. The film could use some trimming, especially Clyde’s cigarette breaks. Honestly, the amount of time spent shooting Clyde puffing away while gazing out the window must equal four to five minutes.
Other than that minor complaint, 7E is definitely worth a watch if you dig Lynchian mysteries and moody character studies. The film is available now on a bare bones DVD.