The new Russian thriller “Row 19” opens with a jolt. At 30,000 feet, a passenger plane mysteriously loses power and plunges to the earth, crashing near Novosibirsk. Miraculously there is a lone survivor – a seven-year-old girl named Katarina who unwittingly becomes a national celebrity. It’s a tragic event that would be hard for anyone to put behind them. But it’s made impossible for Katarina, who is hounded by an obsessed media who are constantly retelling her story.
Bounce ahead 20 years. Katarina (Svetlana Ivanova) is a now a psychologist with a daughter named Diana (Marta Timofeeva). Despite her past trauma, Katarina seems to have conquered her fears and she puts on a good show for her daughter and the press. But when she and Diana board a late-night flight bound for Pontianak, we immediately feel her tension. And before the plane has even reached cruising altitude, Katarina’s terror begins manifesting itself in ways meant to shape the movie’s suspense.
Directed by Alexander Baba and written by James Rabb, “Row 19” has a good setup and it instantly has us studying its characters and scrounging for clues. Is what we are seeing real or is it all in Katarina’s head? Unfortunately, despite a good hook, the film stalls and has a hard time propelling itself forward. Even with a lean 70-minute runtime, the movie has a hard time keeping a good pace. Before long there’s only 15 minutes left and we still haven’t moved very far from where we started.
Again, I do like how Baba and Rabb place us in their confined space and make us a part of the mostly empty seven-passenger flight. Aside from Katarina and Diana, there’s a hunky ex-reporter, an elderly couple, a sour businessman, and an antsy hipster. Add the two flight attendants and you have all the human pieces for what unfolds. The performances are solid and fit nicely with the variety of personalities. But understandably, as the story begins to sputter so do the characters and their arcs.
There are a few injections of horror – bloody hands on the plane’s windows, a creepy milky-eyed crone, a particularly brutal use of fire. And there is nifty final act twist that adds a much needed kick. But it’s the slow-moving path to the finale that brings the film down. There’s simply not enough to bridge the movie’s strong start and surprise ending. It’s a good effort and the movie is easy to digest. But there’s a good chance you’ll leave it wishing it had more to offer. “Row 19” is now out on Blu-ray and VOD.