September 19, 1985 is a date that will be forever etched into the psychological landscape of Mexico City. For the city’s 8 million residents, what started out as an unassuming Thursday morning quickly descended into a nightmare scenario when a 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico at 7:19 a.m. Over the brief span of three minutes, the convulsion leveled more than 3,000 buildings and took upwards of 10,000 lives, and the city was transformed forever.
It sounds like the stuff of a Hollywood disaster flick, but for Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau the inspiration for his latest feature, 7:19, came from the devastating reality of that fateful morning. And unlike his big budget counterparts, Grau hasn’t turned to the genre just to peddle cheap thrills. 7:19 promises to be simmering with tension, of course, but it has also provided Grau with a powerful pretext to explore Mexico’s deep class divisions.
More precisely, the film finds a fictional politician named Martin Soriano trapped under several tons of concrete with humble nightwatchman Fernando Pellicer following the collapse of a nine-story building. Faced with the imminence of death, the two must turn to each other as they await rescue crews from the outside.
The film’s trailer shows how this all plays out amidst the claustrophobic confines of rubble and twisted steel, giving Grau a true stylistic challenge on par with Danny Boyle’s survival drama 127 Hours. Luckily, the director has wrangled top-tier talent for the job in the form of Oscar nominee Demián Bichir, who faces off with veteran television actor Hector Bonilla.
Grau first caught international attention with his 2010 cannibalistic family drama Somos lo que hay, which established his reputation as an ambitious genre director with deep humanist inclinations. 7:19 will be the director’s third feature outing after directing the English-language thriller Big Sky last year.