Yohana is a young girl in a small, isolated community in the Arctic who must decide the fate of an outsider who has committed a crime.
The leader of the village has been killed, and the outsider seems uncomprehending and unfeeling. Likewise, the village is unsympathetic and, on the day of the funeral for Yohana’s father, decides to enact their own rough brand of justice. They will take the outsider out on a boat, attach a rope with seven knots to him and push him into the water — and it is up to Yohana to save his life, or not.
Visually stunning and thrillingly taut in its storytelling, writer-director James Morgan’s short drama explores the liminal space between tradition and modernity, outsiders and community and right and wrong.
Impeccably crafted, It functions as a thriller in its life-and-death stakes and its tightly controlled editing and pacing, but it also evokes a fragile, mesmerizing world whose very soul seems to hang in the balance of Yohana’s decision. The cinematography and camerawork are simply exquisite in capturing the unforgiving, isolated beauty of the Arctic, and with its stunning vistas and dramatic seascapes, we easily see why the villagers will fight so hard to preserve it.
Yet the outside world is clearly encroaching, as the presence of the outsider represents. The film presents him to viewers at first in the same way that the villagers see him: inscrutable, unconcerned and unfeeling. But as the narrative unfolds — and each story beat counts, with each detail, line and performance deftly conveying character and culture and building suspense — we perhaps sense that all isn’t what it seems and that there are perhaps other hidden agendas at work.
Yohana is the center of the narrative, and her decisions as a character power the story forward. Yet she is a young woman asked to make an impossible, almost cripplingly heavy decision, one that will be the making of her, and may likely set off a chain of events that shifts the history of her village. In many ways, she is asked to grow up in a very short space of time — and determine the fate of her and her village as well.
The ritual portrayed in “Seven” is fictionalized, but it seems almost ancient and primal in its intensity and its directness. As a fascinating meditation on justice, it both offers an understanding of how satisfying more immediate, visceral brands of retribution can feel — but also how it can be manipulated and even abused.
The unforgettable setting of “Seven,” which becomes a character in its own right, also can’t help but exert its own point of contemplation. In a world characterized by an increasingly global connection, what are the stakes that come with isolation? When does an insistence on tradition become a hindrance to a seemingly inexorable future? As a piece of filmmaking, the film ably draws viewers in and answers the immediate question of what happens next — but it leaves these broader philosophical questions hanging in the pale light and cold air of the Arctic, to be considered with an unsettling yet intelligent thoughtfulness.