Emma McDonald siting on steps beside a mirror holding her phone in 7 Keys | Agents of Fandom

SXSW 2024: ‘7 Keys’ Channels the Sexy, Erotic Thrillers of the ’80s & ’90s

Emma McDonald and Billy Postlethwaite take the erotic thriller genre to dark depths.

The erotic thriller is a specific genre of film that is dying right before our very eyes and has been for quite some time. Having piqued in the 1980s and 1990s with the likes of Fatal Attraction (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), it is the epitome of the saying “they just don’t make them like they used to.” But 7 Keys is a gleaming bright spot in an otherwise sullied niche genre. Premiering at SXSW, the film confirms that erotic thrillers are coming back — and it does so in a colorful way.

‘7 Keys’ Presents Red-Hot Adult Adventures

Daniel (Billy Postlethwaite, left) leans over Lena (Emma McDonald) as she leans over a high-rise balcony overlooking London in 7 Keys. I Agents of Fandom
Daniel (Billy Postlethwaite, left) and Lena (Emma McDonald) explore flats of lovers past in London in 7 Keys. Image Credit: Lenka Rayn H

The movie follows Lena (Emma McDonald), a Londoner who is stood up on a blind date. Funnily enough, Daniel (Billy Postlethwaite) is a Londoner who is also stood up on a blind date at the very same restaurant on the very same night. The two of them soon realize that the modern dating system is broken and love isn’t in the air for either of them — or so they thought. Together, they commiserate over failed potential relationships and their unending loneliness while slurping up pasta noodles.

As the dinner progresses, Lena’s energy sharply shifts to that of sexual opportunity, hoping to connect with Daniel on a physical level and explore her fascination with relational power. He isn’t interested, yet she persists and follows him home back to his flat, only to soon win him over and kick off their explosive, sultry companionship that leads to a much darker string of events.

As the title 7 Keys indicates, the film breaks the narrative of Lena and Daniel’s now rambunctious relationship into seven parts, each specifying a key being used to unlock something new, whether it’s physically, emotionally, or mentally. Daniel offers up a company of keys he has kept from past dwelling spaces, whether tied to a former relationship or not, that sets the course for them slyly sneaking into residences that do not belong to them, each probing for a different type of power over the other.

In an adventure filled with initial exhilaration, Lena uses surreptitious exploration to encourage Daniel to break free of his introverted shell, with him soon full-heartedly joining in on the secretive fun. As they bounce from one location to the next, endeavoring on sexual escapades along the way, the risk of being caught finally catches up with them. From then on, the film turns gritty and dark, unraveling a sinister truth about Lena and Daniel.

Innovative Filmmaking Keeps Things Spicy

Lena (Emma McDonald, left) explores the power of simple, little keys by dangling a rung of them in front of Daniel (Billy Postlethwaite, right) in 7 Keys. I Agents of Fandom
Lena (Emma McDonald, left) explores the power of simple, little keys with Daniel (Billy Postlethwaite, right) in 7 Keys. Image Credit: Lenka Rayn H

Each chapter features a heavy color tinge — beginning with an overtone of red that slowly shifts into much colder colors as the film progresses — introducing an inventive and original visual language that helps the movie operate like a lock you are trying to turn the key to unlock another secret it’s withholding. Emma McDonald and Billy Postlethwaite bring a very specific authenticity and connection to this blood-beckoning erotic thriller by being a couple in real life (I asked them about this in detail in my interview with them), something rarely seen on screen that is entirely successful here.

In her debut feature, director Joy Wilkinson manages to pace the project smartly and elicit a tonal juxtaposition between acts that beckons the viewer to garner more investment as the narrative unfolds. As with most upper-tier films, especially those in the erotic thriller genre, 7 Keys coerces the audience to ponder if they would act the same way when presented with a similar opportunity — a fruitful endeavor that makes the movie stick in your head long after the credits have rolled.

Ultimately, 7 Keys is a successful, if not small-scale, erotic thriller that is everything you want from a movie within the genre: hot people acting naughty, high-stakes character arcs, and innovative, stylistic filmmaking. While it does feel overstuffed at moments, veering towards spreading character intrigue too wide, it remains a thrilling, dark adventure that presents the question of just how much power a little key can hold.

I was able to chat with director Joy Wilkinson, along with Emma McDonald and Billy Postlethwaite, about the long creative process in getting this film made, what it’s like to bring a real-life relationship to a project with this energy, and if they would ever use a key to access an old lovers flat. Check out the interview below!

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'7 Keys' Review

'7 Keys' Review
3.5 5 0 1
3.5 rating
Total Score

The Good

  • It's a spicy, sinister adult-oriented movie — exactly what an erotic thriller should be!
  • The color-grading presents an eye-popping visual language that is innovative and fun.

The Bad

  • The character narratives stretch too thin, trying to cover to much ground.
  • The erotic thriller combination gradually comes undone, veering away from effective eroticism and straight towards a fragile thriller.
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