Mariano Cohn's '4x4' Is An Enthralling Lockbox Of Horror And Tension [Fantastic Fest 2019]

Mariano Cohn's 4x4, which sadly is not a lumberjacked themed slasher, brings fresh conceptualization to the single-setting thriller format. Those suffering from "Amaxophobia," peel off in the opposite direction. Ever get stuck in highway traffic, roasting on the interstate with no air conditioning and mounting frustrations? Cohn constructs a far scarier transportation lock-in scenario where moral quandaries rev all the right engines. Maximum tension without burning any rubber.Peter Lanzani stars as Ciro, common impoverished trash who spies a shiny parked SUV that tickles his criminal fancy. Ciro breaks in, roots around a bit, marks his territory, but upon trying to flee finds he's locked inside the vehicle. Panic quickly takes hold. Ciro attempts to break windows and dismantle his way out, but his steel mousetrap allows no such exit. Then the dashboard console receives an incoming call from the car's owner. Turns out Ciro entered the wrong stationary death machine, and there's a price to pay for his mistake.

Staying trapped within one location requires laser-focus attention to detail, especially such a claustrophobic setting as Ciro's four-door deathtrap. How do you sustain believability that Ciro cannot escape? We've witnessed hostages bash through locked trunks plenty of times before, after all. Cohn demands some suspension of disbelief, but the way 4x4 immediately kicks into gear grabs attention. With each climatic shift, Ciro's anxiety shapes into a new form of fear or despair. Small quarters limit Ciro's options, but never reduces suspense to cruise control. There's menace to this automotive example of vigilante justice.

Kudos to Lanzani, whose dialogue-scant performance battles elements, festering wounds, and a madman with a cellphone. There's no downtime between setting the stage or entering Ciro's kidnapping, and Lanzani's rapid deterioration of self plays with paranoia in such destructive ways. Within minutes he goes from anarchistic street punk to distraught, beaten, and broken down. Shot in the leg because he pops a bullet that ricochets off polarized and bulletproof windows, immediately injecting danger into a scenario otherwise presented as a gimmick. Ciro is outright tortured within this upgraded vehicular prison complete with air conditioning that attempts to freeze him to death, zero hydration (except wiper fluid), and impenetrable walls. A man forced to watch pedestrians saunter past going about their daily lives, completely oblivious to the Jigsaw-esque game being played right on their block.

Enter Dady Brieva as "Enrique Ferrari," who plays the orchestrator of Ciro's torment. It's his "Predator" SUV, and his voice speaking through the car's dashboard. His calm demeanor when acting as Ciro's moral adjudicator unlocks themes of classism at play. Motivations start simple enough – Mr. Ferrari's been a victim of theft some 29 times – but there's more to the commoner's intentions than personal justice. It's a cat and mouse game of phone tag, as Ciro becomes weaker by the day from his infections and lack of nourishment. Brieva leans into the clear heartlessness behind Enrique's methodologies, especially when noting how the gas tank can be triggered like an explosive device.

Sound design and cinematography make use of every inch inside Ciro's new whip, from stationary long takes to the squeaky sounds of leather upholstery. As stated before, single location movies have to make the most of settings worth 90-ish minutes of confinement. 4x4 wriggles behind door paneling, fills an airtight space with distinct sounds, and keeps an uptempo score cranked as one might flip through radio stations while driving. Cohn is hyper-aware of how quickly audiences can turn on a movie that employs minimal conversation and stays within tight quarters. Where other filmmakers might stay with a barebones model, Cohn puts effort into the minuscule details that upgrade dread and style.

In the end, 4x4 gives us precisely what we've been sold on the showroom floor. A robber defies "Neighborhood Watch" warnings and is punished for his actions in the most unexpected ways. One might think this sounds too simple a concept, but Mariano Cohn ensures this is no leisurely Sunday drive. 4x4 is lean, fascinatingly detailed, and punches into overdrive when excitement is most needed. A breezy watch packed tight with intensity whether it's Peter Lanzani's lonesome performance or Cohn's take on societal victimization across all fronts. Lines are blurred, lives are risked, and it all makes for some enthralling lockbox horror as we watch from the backseat.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10