Seven Hours in Heaven was poised to be a film audiences could root for at the 2015 Phoenix Film Festival. Except for one, the cast consisted of local actors. It was filmed in Munds Park and Flagstaff. And it was created only a year after co-writers Colleen Hartnett and Kyle Gerkin were inspired by an entry in last year's festival.
But despite the film's potential, it left the audience in disbelief and wishing the creators had given it some more time.
Seven Hours in Heaven features three couples: Lisa (Colleen Hartnett, who co-wrote the film) is engaged to Cade (Aaron Ginn-Forsberg); Rob (John Crosthwaite) is married to Jane (Aria Song); and Melanie (Honda King) who is dating her daughters' caregiver Ryan (Mark Grossman). Lisa, Jane, and Melanie have been best friends since childhood and went to school with Rob.
The six drunkenly decide to play the middle-school staple Seven Minutes in Heaven during a couples trip to a cabin in northern Arizona after becoming bored with charades. To up the ante, they change the game so that each newly matched up pair will spend the night alone together in a bedroom. After a little protest from Jane, Cade, and Ryan, the couples agree to play -- under the condition that they never speak about what happens during those hours. But, of course, things don't go as planned and secrets (beyond what happens when the friends pair off) come out.
The next hour or so shows the predictable wreckage that would inevitably happen if any adults decided to do this.
Even after finishing the film, it's hard to believe the premise that six adults, the majority in committed relationships, would agree to this game in the first place and also think it wouldn't affect their relationships at all.
During an audience Q&A after the 2015 PFF screening on Saturday, March 28, Hartnett said she was inspired by Thomas Beatty's 2014 Phoenix Film Fest submission Teddy Bears (now titled The Big Ask), which New Times reviewer Heather Hoch said left audiences with "nothing to learn, nothing to really feel -- other than maybe some mild frustration and being creeped out more than a little bit."
Apparently, Hartnett disagreed. She said the film left her wanting to make a similarly character-driven movie.
Despite the actors' efforts, there wasn't much character to drive this film. Instead, we were left with borderline offensive stock characters, particularly when it came to the women of the film.
Melanie was a sassy, outspoken black woman and single mother of two. Lisa was a rambunctious, blonde white woman who just wanted to party and have a good time. Jane was a reserved, cautious Asian woman who only agreed to the game because her husband and Lisa egged her on by saying she was boring.
Despite these flaws, there were some commendable aspects to Seven Hours in Heaven.
Song took what might've been a lackluster part and turned Jane into the most dynamic and believable character in the film, full of passion, regret, and anger without overdoing it.
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While the scenes with all six of the characters could get muddled or just boring (about a half hour of the film involves watching the group of drunk adults play board games and reminisce), the most enjoyable scenes came when just two or three of the characters were left on their own. Scenes like the restrained yet sexually charged moments between Jane and Cade in the bathroom or the satisfyingly sweet heart-to-heart between Melanie and Ryan sitting in the bar that carried the film.
Although it's impressive that this film was written, shot, and edited in about a year, perhaps with a bit more time, Hartnett and co-writer and director Kyle Gerkin would have worked out the kinks and letdowns.
Phoenix Film Festival continues through Thursday, April 2, at Harkins Scottsdale 101. Visit www.phoenixfilmfestival.com.