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Somewhere deep in rural Colombia, a gang of brutal thugs invades a family’s home, holding a husband and wife and their three small children at gunpoint. The thugs are after a large sum of money allegedly hidden in the house, but the father swears on his life that his family is poor and have never seen that much money in their lives.
So the thugs try a different tack. They reveal a device made of wires and PVC-1 tubing, and clamp it tightly around the mother’s neck. They leave behind an audio cassette explaining that the device is a pipe bomb, and it will only be removed once they’ve received the money. And if the family tries to go to the police, the bomb will be set off by remote control.
Realizing that the wife’s head could get blown off at any moment, the entire family immediately sets out on a frantic search for help. Eventually, they find assistance from an ill-equipped police bomb expert, who’s a bit of a nervous wreck himself. The bomb expert painstakingly works to defuse the bomb, while the wife struggles to hold onto her sanity.
And that’s pretty much the whole plot. “PVC-1” has no twists, no turns, no subplots, and no subtext. And yet, it’s a remarkable film, because writer-director Spiros Stathoulopoulos has not only filmed the movie in real time, but also as a single, unbroken, 81-minute take.
As the masked gunmen ride up to the house, the camera is positioned inside the car, constantly rotating around and watching them all. As they invade the family’s home, that same camera moves from room to room, capturing the entire attack. And the very same camera follows the family as they race to meet the explosives expert, and all of this happens without a single cutaway. In total, this one camera travels at least a couple of miles through the Colombian jungle over the course of this film.
It’s a stunning technical achievement, to be sure. It had to have taken weeks to choreograph this single take, and rehearse it enough times to make sure everything went off without a hitch. It’s an amazing thing to see, and the POV-style camerawork inserts the viewer into the action like few films in recent memory.
And yet, despite the desperate, scrambling protagonists, and a bomb set to go off at any minute, “PVC-1” is never quite the intense, nail-biting experience it should have been. There’s very little dialogue, and almost nothing in the way of character development. Consequently, most of the film is made up of long, silent stretches where we’re simply following the family through the jungle. It’s hard to get engaged in a story that frequently comes to a full stop for several minutes at a time.
Most movies filmed in real time come up with various tricks to avoid showing the tedium involved in getting from point A to point B. You rarely see a film that forces us to watch every single moment of the character’s lives without cutting away to something else. This movie shows us why that’s usually still a good idea.
And the cast tries their hardest, but you never quite believe this family is trapped in a life or death scenario. Everyone is just too casual, and the husband in particular is so relaxed that you almost start to believe he really does have the money, and is willing to let his wife die for it. That would have been an interesting twist, but far too complex for a simplistic story like this.
Still, there are lots of tense moments and some good jump-scare moments. The pipe bomb lets out an ear-splitting beep at random intervals, which scares the crap out of the family, as well as everyone in the audience, I would imagine. And it’s fun to spot some of the slipups that were an unavoidable consequence of the way this movie was made, like a toddler who’s in the background of one scene, and doesn’t know any better, so he stares directly into the camera.
Any movie that pushes the technical boundaries of cinema like “PVC-1” is worth seeing. Unfortunately, it’s not the edge of the seat thrill ride you’re expecting. Regardless, for sheer novelty value and the filmmakers’ audacity in filming a single, 81-minute take, this is a movie sure to be remembered for a long time to come.
Spiros Stathoulopoulos (director) / Dwight Istanbulian, Spiros Stathoulopoulos (screenplay)
CAST: Daniel Páez
Michael Schorling … Luis