What to Watch Verdict
'4x4' is a paradox, a stationary thrill ride that maintains momentum without leaving the confines of a space that cannot even accommodate standing up.
🚚Expertly shot and performed in a restrictively tight space.
🚚Biting classist social commentary.
🚚Some scenes drag a bit in the middle.
The opening shots of Mariano Cohn’s 4x4 show a variety of surveillance and security apparatus. Signs, spiked guardrails, cameras, security systems: they’re all on display. It’s a series of images that bring to mind the lengths we go to in order to feel safe in a world that can never be totally free of crime, and they contrast rather harshly with how we’re introduced to the film’s protagonist, a car stereo thief named Ciro (Peter Lanzani). Those initial shots don’t initially seem to be invested with that much meaning as the film’s relatively simple premise comes into focus, but there’s hidden depths to a film that would at first appear to hang its hat entirely on a simple gimmick.
The pitch of the film is that in the process of stealing a stereo from an innocuous but upscale SUV, Ciro becomes locked in the car and is unable to escape. The windows are shatterproof, opaquely tinted, and soundproof. The engine doesn’t start and no amount of tearing the wall panels apart gives Ciro an avenue of escape. Only once he reinstalls the stereo to gain some measure of entertainment does he get a phone call from the owner of the vehicle, Enrique Ferrari (Dady Brieva), a doctor whose history of being robbed has led him to devise this trap for any unsuspecting thief who would make the attempt.
There’s the distinct flavor of Saw to this premise despite being based on actual events, and the majority of the film’s runtime is reflective of that expectation. As Ciro struggles for whatever water he can scrounge, unsuccessfully attempts to treat his accidentally self-inflicted wounds, and slowly starves to death as the days go by, Ferrari taunts by recounting the banalities of his day while alternately blasting the air conditioning and heater at full blast to destroy any sense of comfort Ciro can experience. This is all shot and performed within the closed interior of an SUV, a feat of cinematography and acting that remains engaging throughout and manages to pull off a stunning variety of shot compositions for such a cramped space.
If that were the only reason to recommend 4x4, it would simply be a solid experiment of cinema without enough on its mind to justify a bid for greatness. However, Mariano Cohn and co-writer Gastón Duprat have a specific and aggressive point to their little novelty film, with a third act that expands outward into a damning condemnation of the disparity between social classes. As Ferrari unearths Ciro’s criminal record and puts the severity of his crimes on display, the film doesn’t focus, as Ferrari does, on whether Ciro deserves his fate. Of course he doesn’t. The question is what drove Ciro to the point that he felt this was necessary, and what could possibly lead Ferrari to think he’s justified in torturing someone over a material possession. It’s a subtle but powerful transformation in the film, highlighting the lengths to which the wealthy will value their property over the lives and welfare of the people desperate enough to try and take some of it for themselves.
Even at a scant ninety minutes, Ciro’s confinement does drag on a little long in a few stretches meant to highlight the torture of his new normal, but that’s immediately forgivable in light of the plot’s evolution into social commentary. 4x4 is a paradox, a stationary thrill ride that maintains momentum without leaving the confines of a space that cannot even accommodate standing up. It’s dark and harrowing, with much more on its mind than first appears, and it knows just when to up the stakes to keep the novelty of its premise from grinding to a halt.
4x4 comes out on VOD on February 2, 2021.
Leigh Monson has been a professional film critic and writer for six years, with bylines at Birth.Movies.Death., SlashFilm and Polygon. Attorney by day, cinephile by night and delicious snack by mid-afternoon, Leigh loves queer cinema and deconstructing genre tropes. If you like insights into recent films and love stupid puns, you can follow them on Twitter.