7 Prisoners deals with an incredibly traumatic and upsetting facet of society: human trafficking. The fact that those preyed upon are trying to better their financial situations (often to help their families) makes it altogether more depressing. I found the methods of torment to be absolutely abhorrent and appalling, which I suppose is exactly the point director Alexandre Moratto and co-writer Thayná Mantesso are trying to make. I did feel drowned in the depressing vibes, but if one desires feel-good entertainment—look elsewhere.
A job at the Sao Paulo junkyard seems like it will be easy enough. Sure, one may have to strip cars and undergo intensive manual labor, but at least three meals a day, the opportunity to “get rich,” and a roof over one’s head will be provided! 18-year-old Mateus (Christian Malheiros) is in for a seriously rude awakening when he leaves his mom behind to pursue honest work and proper contracts via this junkyard. The red flags seem to be there from the beginning. When the group tackles over thirty deliveries in one week and get resistance about taking breaks, Mateus finally speaks up. Their ridiculously awful benefactor, Luca (Rodrigo Santoro), then reveals an ugly truth: they can expect no pay until their debts are paid off in full. Luca says they owe debt that gets docked from their pay—$3000 a month in “equipment, tools, rent for the room, and food!”
Mateus and the others realize around this time they have no way out. Luca begins withholding food from them, then showers, and toothpaste. If they try to escape, Luca threatens to kill their families. With no way out, they contemplate dangerous measures in order to escape, while Mateus tries to blend in and not make waves. Following Mateus and his journey is captivating at times, but it remains too depressing to be engaging. There comes a point where it feels like 7 Prisoners is content at wallowing in misery just because it can. From an audience perspective, it becomes impenetrable when the emotional core is so severely one-sided.
Netflix offered the option to choose between an English dub or the original audio. Though I chose to stick with the dub, I would highly suggest watching it in Spanish with English subtitles. The English dub pulled me out of the movie quite a few times, as it is not the best, and can come across as silly when a vital moment is occurring onscreen. Whatever way you choose to watch it, 7 Prisoners is a well-made survival flick that shines the necessary dramatic light on human trafficking.
7 Prisoners screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. It debuts on Netflix in November 2021.