Set fifty miles within the Arctic Circle, Seven unabashedly takes up arms against Oil Companies’ ever-growing reach, and the remote communities being poisoned by it.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Seven’s first image is worth a million. Director/writer, James Morgan, sums up the entire conflict in one poignant opening frame: offshore drilling rigs high above the calm, crystal clear waters off a stunning hinterland. It is peaceful, but there is most certainly a storm on the horizon. We see a village among the cliffs and inside we meet our distraught Yohana, (Dagny Backer Johnsen) who wields a shaky rifle in the face of an oil worker (Nicholas Boulton) eating what appears to be his final meal. The man speaks Russian and makes peace with his God before being escorted outside, where the entire village silently waits.
Yohana hands the prisoner off and is warmly embraced by a book-toting village elder (Trond Teigen). He ensures that their archaic justice system has been followed appropriately thus far. She confirms, and the oil worker is brought near a body draped in white linen, lain across a small boat of wood and flowers. The man is Yohana’s father, and it is clear that the worker is responsible for his death. After a quick eulogy and then ceremony for the departed, we are on a rowboat with Yohana, the elder, and the oil worker. He is tied up, begging for his life, clutching a large stone tied to his waist. Yohana has seven seconds to make a life or death decision that will mark her forever, and determine the future of her people.
Seven is a beautiful and intimate portrayal of one girl’s struggle within a global issue—small communities being shaken by international relations. Many have tried to tell this type of tale, but few succeed as well as Morgan. His decision to be as concise as possible, with a hint of ambiguity paid off. He infused purpose into every choice, every shot. Whether it’s a quick glimpse of scales as Yohana forces the worker outside, or the fantastic one-shot as she escorts him to the waters, Morgan managed to give the necessary exposition with such grace, that almost nothing is spoken up to this point, and we are well aware of the circumstances, the stakes, and the decisions made.
The ensemble is gripping and brilliantly casted. Johnsen perfectly balances justice and mercy in every moment on screen. Behind her obvious sorrow and fear lie a multitude of layers battling to surface, and it is a privilege to witness. Her Co-star, Teigen, carries the weight of a village on his shoulders. Each word he speaks is filled with sincerity and duty; all while Boulton maintains such truth in his performance though he is mostly silent through the film’s runtime.
Benjamin Sadd managed to bring grit to this stunning location that not only suits the subject matter but also enhances it in a way you cannot forget. His movement on the coverage is connecting and encompassing, capturing the subtext of every scene masterfully.
Lest we forget, all of which is tied together by Jack Wyllie’s ominous and foreboding score that echoes the collective pain of a village and its people. Music is often used like wallpaper in films, but Wyllie’s score might as well be another character.
In the end, Seven leaves you wanting more, and what more could you ask for than that? You will have questions, but you will want to go back and find the answers rather than settling on not understanding or caring for that matter, as is the case with some other films where ambiguity goes too far. And I must note, when I say ambiguity I do not mean it was because of error or story holes. I mean that this script and these characters were built completely, and then reduced to their essence.
And as we all know, a reduction is something that becomes much more potent than what it started out as.
Seven is a lesson to filmmakers in discipline. Seven is compelling for all who are lucky to experience.