When thinking about the worst ways to die, a few options pop to the top of the mind, including but not limited to drowning, something elevator-related, or any of the setpieces from Final Destination. Getting trapped in your car during a blizzard? It’s another awful way to go, and it’s the premise for director Brendan Walsh’s debut feature Centigrade, a snappy horror-thriller based on true events from IFC Midnight.
Written by Walsh and Daley Nixon, the film exists inside of the tiny vehicle of a couple, Matt (Vincent Piazza) and Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez), as they wake up after pulling off the road and falling asleep in the middle of the night in a Norway mountain range. Within the car, which contains a minimal amount of food and water, the couple (including a pregnant Naomi) disagree on attempting to escape or bunkering down, and secrets and lies start to drop like the surrounding temperature. Naomi learns that Matt recently lost his job. Matt learns that Naomi continues with her doses of various pills. They start to fall apart.
Though just under 90 minutes, the film falters with pacing. The story rarely progresses further than exchanged glances, lots of sleeping, and a few, tense, cold moments. The couple never looks to be in serious danger. Yes, they’re getting colder––that much is obvious––but they’re not losing their sanity fast enough. It makes the story sweeter, to see that their love won’t fade due to a bit of hypothermia, but it doesn’t make for an interesting film. Short of intensity and horror, once we understand the circumstances, our investment stops there with these characters.
With a lack of background, minimal dialogue, and days starting to pass by, the film becomes a series of events with little emotional impact to be had. The cold doesn’t seem that unbearable. Matt and Naomi look undernourished and dehydrated, but their bodies contain enough energy to yell at one another, to take off their beanies and rub their heads in disgust, to smash a window and attempt to dig at the ice. The concept ends up being more interesting than the execution. The performances do a serviceable job with the script, but neither actor stands out amongst the layers of jackets and sweaters.
The film ends up whimpering through its third act. Much like its characters, the story loses resonance as it goes on, and the climax manages to be an inevitable need for finality, without feeling earned by characters and audiences alike. Conceptually, a film set in a car buried underneath snow and ice sounds interesting. There are flashes of excitement, such as the intimate moment another person enters the vehicle, but these are sandwiched between long stretches of monotony. Getting stuck in a car with little food and water for weeks sounds tedious due to its repetitive and unvaried nature, and the film unfortunately follows suit. In that specific way, it’s a triumph.
As a first feature, Walsh crafted a film with more potential than successful implementation. It’s incredible that this couple could survive these circumstances. Centigrade makes their journey a flat, uninspired experience, one with less difficulty, conflict, or danger than expected. For some, that might be enough, due to the runtime, performances, and setup. For most, though, this story will be a simple lesson to not pull off the road in the middle of the night during a blizzard.
Centigrade opens on Friday, August 28.