‘7 Keys’ Review: Emma McDonald and Billy Postlethwaite Bring Much-Needed Heat to Misguided London Hook-Up Drama

Harking back to those erotic thrillers of yore, especially from the 1980s and 90s, writer-director Joy Wilkinson’s 7 Keys, her debut feature, starts out full of promise and potential — much like the impromptu hook-up that gets the plot rolling. Unfortunately, like many an ill-starred love match, what follows is disappointing as things evolve in a lurid and yet strangely predictable direction. But while it all goes sour and south in the last act, there are definitely sparks of originality in the early running, supported by a brace of strong performances from Emma McDonald and Billy Postlethwaite, who deserve better than what the script gives them to work with.

Premiering in the Visions section at SXSW, this low-budget striver of a feature may find berths with streamers, and ought to at least attract attention from casting directors looking for new talents.

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McDonald and Postlethwaite aren’t entirely unknown quantities. The two worked with Wilkinson before on a short film, The Everlasting Club, while McDonald had a supporting role in Layla, which premiered in Sundance last January. Postlethwaite, who is the son of the late Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father), has been slightly more visible, appearing recently in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny while his resume is full of small roles on some of Britain’s most talent-hungry, TV-show training grounds, such as Midsomer Murders and Game of Thrones. Of late, he’s moved up the pay scale with recurring roles in various lesser-known series (Beforeigners, Silo, The Winter King).

As it happens, the freshness of the actors’ faces works in the film’s favor since it makes it harder to predict in the early running where it’s all going. Given that the first character we meet is Lena (McDonald), conventional genre wisdom would lead the viewer to expect she’s the one we’re meant to root for as she gets ready for a Friday night out, having packed off her young son Cal (Kaylen Luke) to stay with his father Richard (Andrew Scarborough) for the long weekend ahead. After the obligatory getting-ready montage, Lena rocks up at a bar where she’s meant to be seeing a guy she met via a dating app. But the guy doesn’t show, so Lena gets chatting with shy computer expert Daniel (Postlethwaite), who is also on his own having been stood up by a prospective date.

So far, so meet cute, although the script soon adds a dollop of darkness in the way Lena stalks Daniel home. Somewhere between the first kiss on the couch and the first bout of shagging in the bedroom, Lena notices that Daniel has a great number of keys on a keyring, not because he’s a concierge or a security worker, but because he’s kept the front door and main door keys to every place he’s lived in London.

A bit of a tearaway herself, raised by a single mother on a low income, Lena suggests they visit each of the properties. The aim is not to steal anything, just to break in, leave almost no trace, and snoop around. Because it’s a bank holiday weekend, many folks will be out of town, Lena reasons, and so Daniel, who gets more confident by the minute, agrees. What could possibly go wrong?

Lots, as it turns out. Neither party is exactly who they seem to be, but the ultimate reveal as to which of them is the more damaged and dangerous is not that much of a surprise. But up until the fun starts to drain away from the weekend like blood from a corpse, the two actors have genuine chemistry, and production and costume designer Natasha Jenkins does a bang-up job of sketching what each of the residents of the apartments they visit is like just with props and styling details. At its best, 7 Keys evokes the variety of Londoners and London neighborhoods, even if it’s frustratingly evasive about the geographical details of where each apartment and house are located.

But there’s also a sense of opportunities missed. The late Kim Ki-duk’s 3-Iron, for example, also featured characters who break into houses for laughs not larceny, but built something richer and stranger with the premise that touched on class, voyeurism and desire. 7 Keys, on the other hand, gives itself a lobotomy just when it needs to get smart and settles for being another dumb parable about the dangers of sex.

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