Locked-room films, as they are sometimes referred to, often rely on the audience carrying for the protagonist in whatever situation they find themselves in. From Buried to Saw to Green Room, the key to their success is that we care about the main character escaping. The Argentinian thriller 4X4 centers around a petty thief Ciro (Peter Lanzani) who is a tough person to care about.
Ciro finds himself locked inside the vehicle he tries to steal the stereo from. So right off the bat, he is unlikeable as he even pisses in the vehicle before realizing he is trapped. As the film progresses, we learn more and more about the awful crimes Ciro has committed and any chance for sympathy goes out the winder. That isn't to say the director Mariano Cohn hasn't concocted a film with tension and surprises, it just left me uninvested in the outcome.
Ciro tries desperately to escape the vehicle at first. He shoots at the windows but they are bulletproof, the ricochet striking his leg. The glass is mirrored so no one sees any of this. The car is soundproof so no one can hear him. As his attempts to free himself become more and more hopeless, it becomes clear someone built the car as a trap. When the vehicle's onboard phone rings, Ciro's situation worsens. The car's owner admits to modifying the SUV with the intent of trapping thieves. He has a grudge to fill, a man pushed to the edge by all the break-ins he's experienced. We learn the owner is a physician and a sadist as he clearly has no intention of letting Ciro escape or even live.
For the first hour, 4X4 moves at a thrilling pace. While Ciro is not a compelling lead, Lanzani gives a committed, frantic performance. He is the only actor for much of the film and his performance carries the tension along. He displays a huge range of emotions and the deterioration of Ciro as time goes on with no food or water.
Once the film exits the vehicle, it sadly loses much of its suspense. Cohn feels the need to explicitly explain the film's themes of class, crime, and vengeance. It drags the third act to a halt as the characters monologue about society. It is painful to watch a fun, high concept derails itself like this.