Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of new movies. Learn some film history, become a more well-rounded viewer, and enjoy likeminded works of the past.
You think it’s tough being cooped up in your apartment during a pandemic? Try the closer confinement of an airliner cockpit during an attempted hijacking. That’s the premise of 7500, the feature directorial debut of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Patrick Vollrath. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as the pilot of a flight from Berlin to Paris who must maintain control, holding back terrorists, until he can complete an emergency landing.
Most of the movie is set in the single location of the cockpit, and so it easily reminds us of other one-character, one-location thrillers, of which there have been plenty in recent years. But only one of them directly influenced the making of 7500, while a few other obvious and unlikely films also provided inspiration. Below is a list of the known sources as well as some other personally selected predecessors that feed this movie’s DNA.
Everything Will Be Okay (2015) and DeKalb Elementary (2017)
Two Oscar-nominated live-action shorts that should have won the Academy Award in their year. Each of them lost to the nominee that I found to be the least deserving in their category (see my rankings of the 2016 contenders and the crop in 2018). Everything Will Be Okay (a.k.a. Alles wird gut) is written and directed by Vollrath and was his last short film before getting the opportunity to move up to a feature.
Similarities between Everything Will Be Okay and 7500 include a high-concept premise used for a tight character-driven story, which is focused on a father and involves a flight and near-airport setting. Mostly set in a hotel, the thirty-minute film follows a man and his daughter, whom he’s attempting to steal out of the country. Like Gordon-Levitt in 7500, the main actors here are what really make the film work, with the exceptional child actress, Julia Pointner, being the more memorable.
Reed Van Dyk’s DeKalb Elementary is another heavy drama with strong performances. Based on a true story (which had already spawned a Lifetime movie), the twenty-one-minute short takes place in the confines of an elementary school administration office as a would-be shooter is talked down from his plan by a bookkeeper. The situation is not unlike the pilot in 7500 talking down the one hijacker who is having second thoughts about killing innocent people.
Everything Will Be Okay is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime
DeKalb Elementary is currently available to rent from Amazon
While the inspiration for the specific plot of 7500 came from a news story, Vollrath has acknowledged in interviews that he first decided he wanted to do a film set in a single space after seeing Steven Knight’s Locke. The surprisingly compelling movie stars Tom Hardy as the only character on screen, a construction foreman whose life unravels as he drives from Birmingham to London to be with a woman he’s had a one-night adulterous fling with as she’s having his baby.
Although there are fewer visible roles than in 7500, Hardy’s character, Ivan Locke, talks to many others on the phone (thirty-six calls in total, according to IMDb trivia), and that’s akin to the pilot in Vollrath’s feature talking to a number of characters off-screen through his radio. Locke’s vocal performances come from such distinguished (and some more well-known now than they were then) actors as Olivia Colman, Tom Holland, Andrew Scott, and Ruth Wilson.
Currently available to watch on Netflix and Kanopy
Charlie Victor Romeo (2013)
There’s a sort of documentary feel to the proceedings of 7500 since the film takes place primarily in one location and unfolds in real-time. For something equally dramatized but more documentary in purpose, there’s the under-seen nonfiction feature Charlie Victor Romeo. Directed by Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels, and Karlyn Michelson and adapted from Berger, Daniels and Irving Gregory’s 1999 play, the film presents six situations based on black box recordings retrieved from airline disasters.
Not all of the incidents involved casualties (you’ll be shocked that everyone survived the first act’s emergency), and of those with deaths, some of the crashes miraculously wound up with survivors. In one of those, even the cockpit crew made it out alive. But the stories and dialogue are still strictly sourced from recordings rather than accounts or fictionalizations, allowing this to be a unique kind of documentary — and without a doubt one of the scariest ever made.
Currently available to rent or buy from Amazon and other digital outlets
United 93 (2006)
All of the incidents in Charlie Victor Romeo involve issues with the mechanics of the plane, whereas the situation in 7500 is a disaster caused by terrorists. Therefore, United 93 is the more closely aligned film, and of course, it’s a much bigger one, both in its production and in the true story depicted. Almost qualified as a documentary itself, it dramatizes what happened on 9/11 during Flight 93, when passengers overtook the hijackers but the plane still crashed into a field and killed all on board.
“In general, I was very inspired by the films by Paul Greengrass,” Vollrath told Archyde. And it shows, since Captain Phillips is another relevant recommendation. “I was able to talk to him on the phone before. He is known for handheld camera and improvisation. His airplane film United 93 is amazing. Greengrass influenced me very much in terms of style, in addition to Haneke, my teacher in Vienna, who has a great influence on the way I work, on the approach to credibility and realism.”
Currently available to stream on Netflix and DirecTV VOD
There are other Michael Haneke films that fit more with the single-location story, like his two versions of Funny Games, but 7500 feels a lot more like Cache (a.k.a. Hidden) to me than any of the Austrian filmmaker’s other works. As noted above, Vollrath studied with Haneke and has taken inspiration from the Cannes-winning auteur particularly in the area of authenticity as well as shot length, having one in the movie last 45 minutes.
Although not set in a single location, many of the spaces in which Cache does take place feel claustrophobic due to the way they’re tightly composed and blocked, adding to the tension of the film. Cache also concerns White Europeans being terrorized for believed crimes against Muslims domestically and internationally. The terrorists in 7500 are broader in their point, though, whereas Cache concerns specific offense and targets one person in particular while still also making a bigger statement.
Currently available to rent or buy from Amazon and other digital outlets
Panic Room (2002)
There are far more home invasion thrillers than airplane hijacking films, going all the way back to Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber’s Suspense, and the genre can be similar for the way it involves outsiders attempting to terrorize characters inside of somewhere. For instance, 7500 especially feels like a home invasion thriller with the cockpit being a dwelling into which others are trying to break. The door and lock system is like a vault, almost like that of an impenetrable panic room.
David Fincher’s Panic Room came to mind most while watching 7500 due to the way the main characters of the movie — a mother and daughter — are safely locked in a space unreachable by the invaders but are also stuck in that space and unable to escape. And the bad guys want to get at something in that room. And though Panic Room takes us outside that space sometimes, often we only see what’s going on beyond the primary location via security cameras, a la 7500.
Currently available to watch via FuboTV and Showtime
Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock has made some of the best single-location films, including Lifeboat and Rope. I don’t always think of Rear Window as being a one-space movie since we do see so many other locations through the voyeurism of James Stewart’s character. There’s a whole world to be watched outside of that titular rear window. Yet the main character is stuck in a single spot and essentially helpless and useless due to an injury keeping him wheelchair-bound for the entire film.
The protagonists of both Rear Window and 7500 witness murders outside their space via some form of lens showing them what’s happening in another place, and they’re each incapable of doing anything about the crime at that moment. Eventually, an antagonist makes his way into the main character’s space, though, and while the hero puts up a good fight, he’s still somewhat incapacitated and has to be saved at the last minute by the authorities.
Currently available to stream via DirecTV VOD
The High and the Mighty (1954)
Most of the early disaster movies involving aircraft follow crashes in remote areas (see Five Came Back and Island in the Sky), but decades before the Airport franchise of the ’70s and the trend of “Die Hard on a plane” movies of the ’90s, Hollywood churned out a few movies in the ’50s that mostly took place on airliners in need of a hero. Zero Hour!, the serious action thriller from 1957 best known for being remade in spoof form as Airplane! is one of the more famous examples.
Three years prior, came the release of this Oscar-winning John Wayne picture (co-starring Airplaine!‘s Robert Stack) in which Duke is tasked with flying and landing an airliner during an emergency situation when the captain winds up out of commission and an engine fire puts the plane in danger. Plot-wise, that’s far from what happens in 7500, but the stakes are just as high and the tension focused on the one hero in the front of the plane is enough for it to come to mind.
The High and the Mighty is, like most airliner disaster movies besides 7500, an ensemble drama, so there is much more going on in the rest of the plane alongside the main plotline. Most notably, a dispute between some of the passengers results in a gun being drawn in the cabin. You wouldn’t see that in a movie made today, though the way the conflict and disarming occurs doesn’t look that much different than the hijacker being overpowered in the cabin in 7500.
Currently available to stream free on Kanopy and PlutoTV