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Unlocking Danger: 7 KEYS Explores Romance Amidst Urban Thrills

A woman holds a set up keys up to a man across from her
Image courtesy of SXSW

By Amylou Ahava

A new word for all of you to add to your daily vocabulary is the word Phrogging. Hopefully, none of us will ever experience Phrogging (or partake in it), but knowing about it does bring a certain level of fear and uncertainty to our lives. Phrogging is when a person lives in a house undetected by the owners. It’s not a common crime, but it does exist (happened to horror writer Grady Hendrix as a kid [look it up!]) and it’s always a very unsettling discovery.

Consider this: is it creepier for a random person to move into the house in secret, or for someone who previously lived there to return? The latter already possesses a familiarity with the space and may have lived there longer than you. This unsettling concept sets the stage for Joy Wilkenson’s first full-length feature 7 KEYS which makes its world premiere at SXSW. The film opens the door and creates an exciting story that combines the thrills of property porn, dark comedy, and a story of discovering oneself.

The story begins when Lena (Emma McDonald) and Daniel (Billy Postlethwaite) simultaneously get stood up by their respected dating app dates and instead of wallowing in their pity, they decide to chat through the pain. Throughout dinner, the two get to know each other a bit more and discover the two unfortunate dump-ees hold a bit of chemistry. Maybe not on the emotional level but definitely on the physical level.

Daniel (a bit of an oddball) still holds onto the keys to every place he's ever lived. Lena (somewhat persuasively) convinces Daniel to revisit these locations, which unlocks doors to his past and sheds light on his character. The notion of holding a key symbolizes ownership, whether to a temporary space like a hotel room or a more permanent residence like an apartment or house. However, possessing a key does not equate to consent (a theme that becomes increasingly relevant as the story unfolds). 

After the blind date fiasco prologue, the film breaks into seven chapters, each focusing on a different place. While each flat represents a different part of Daniel’s past, the places also play out as different milestones in Daniel and Lena’s relationship as they imagine living in each home. As the couple sneaks into the places, Lena comfortably settles in, while Daniel falls into a quiet reflection and remains alert. Looking for thrills, whether it be in App-dating or a bit of B&E, a certain level of danger is expected. And when combining the two activities, things can turn deadly.

So, while the couple is falling into a whirlwind romance, a deadly risk follows them from home to home. The thrill is to sneak into the house while no one is home, but while a person might not be present, danger always is. Through the lens of Lena and Daniel's unconventional courtship, the film explores themes of identity, consent, and the consequences of our actions, reminding viewers that the keys to our past can unlock both nostalgia and danger in equal measure.

The casting of Lena and Daniel was well done as the characters evolve and unravel with each new key that is turned. Lena is more than a forward and flirtatious party girl and Daniel is not your typical shy quiet guy looking for love. They engage with each other physically and emotionally as they share secrets. As each new key brings an increasing amount of danger, the audience starts to question what is more dangerous: the pitfalls of modern dating or the risks associated with committing felonies.

7 KEYS not only unravels a thrilling narrative but also delves deep into the intimate spaces we call home and highlights how much more keys control beyond just the front door. Overall, the film is a gripping thriller that delves into a romance turned sour and paints a vivid picture of contemporary urban life. It captures the essence of our society's fixation on dating apps and materialistic pursuits, all while portraying a generation striving to connect and carve out their place in the bustling cityscape.

7 KEYS had its World Premiere at SXSW 2024.


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