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ROW 19 (aka RYAD 19, 2021)
Directed by Alexander Babaev.
Written by James Rabb.
Starring Svetlana Ivanova, Rinat Abushaev, Marta Kessler, Wolfgang Cerny, Denis Yasik, Sergey Druzyak, Irina Egorova, Anna Glaube, Viktoriya Korlyakova, Vitaliya Kornienko, Anatoliy Kot, Yola Sanko, Ivan Verkhovykh, Ekaterina Vilkova
Katrina (Svetlana Ivanova) and her daughter Diana (Marta Kessler) take their seats on a night flight with very few passengers. This is a special flight as it is the first flight Katrina has taken since she was a young girl making her the sole survivor of a devastating airplane crash. As soon as they take off, the flight begins experiencing difficulties and passengers begin biting the dust one by one. Cursed with visions of dark hands grabbing at her and ghostly flashbacks to the earlier crash, Katrina fights for the life of her child on a plane that has some very strange phenomenon going on.
Reminiscent of another Russian airplane thriller called BLOOD RED SKY, which premiered on Netflix last year and I reviewed here, ROW 19 tells another supernatural tale in the not-so-friendly skies. While BLOOD RED SKY was more of a thrill-a-minute action horror, ROW 19 dives more into the realm of suspense, mystery, and a strong handling of aerophobia or the fear of flying. The opening moments are quite strong depicting the final horrifying moments of Katrina’s original flight where she lost her mom and turned out to be the sole survivor of the flight. The scene also amps the mystery as it introduces a witch-like woman chanting in the seat behind a young Katrina, filling the little gal with even more fear. After a montage and a few news reports detailing that it is twenty years later, the film dives right back onto a plane and begins the strange happenings once again. While most likely this was meant to save money on sets, using the airplane interiors for the main stage for all of the drama to play out, it also amps the claustrophobia of being trapped in a small space and out of control. It’s the constant barrage of noise, action, and mystery that really makes for a highly stressful movie to sit through.
ROW 19 has a kind of TWILIGHT ZONE feel. There’s something the film is not telling the viewer and it’s up to the viewer to figure out just what it is. For the most part, ROW 19 handles this mystery well. There are a lot of seemingly random events occurring, some of them weird as hell such as a woman talking to her dead husband in the back of the plane and some are just plain banal action like a man constantly scribbling in his sketchbook. The frantic way this is edited, paired with the somewhat manic way the adult Katrina is acting, who is sensibly nervous about the flight and protective of her daughter, really does its job on the nerves.
Most films reminiscent of a TWILIGHT ZONE episode suffer from feeling like an overly extended episode, kind of like that season when the TZ series were lengthened to an hour. ROW 19 suffers from this sag in the middle as well. By the time the climax came around, the mystery lost momentum, especially since it’s quite easy to figure out what happened by the end of the first hour. The final moments are quite shocking and play out nightmarishly, despite the overlong time it took to get there.
I don’t want to oversell ROW 19. The dubbed version I watched it pretty badly produced and some of the lines simply don’t ring the same literally translated the way they show up. It cuts into the drama quite a bit. Some of the acting isn’t great, but that mostly is due to the story which really gives some of the characters some odd and socially awkward things to do. Again, this might be because of the translation from Russian to English.
While there are some solid thrills and chills with black hands grabbing at Katrina and her daughter, a milky-eyed witch, and some strange deaths, I found ROW 19 to be occasionally effective, but mostly uncomfortable and simply strangely put together. Kind of the same way I feel about airplane travel. It definitely handles the phobias well, but the film as a whole is a rough trip indeed.