What’s worse than being trapped in a car beneath feet of snow and ice? Centigrade, directed by Brendan Walsh, explores that fear. The film focuses on Matt (Vincent Piazza) and Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez), a couple stranded in arctic Norway. Generally, the film works well at building tension, as one thing after the other goes wrong and the stakes grow. As the dog days of summer near, Centigrade will cool you down.
The opening states that the film was inspired by true events, but that claim is rather loose. Walsh, who co-wrote the screenplay with Daley Nixon, based the story on a handful of accounts about people trapped under snow who somehow made it out alive. The characters in the film, however, are entirely fictional. Even if the story isn’t entirely true, there are aspects of it that feel very real and will chill you to the bone. Walsh shot the film in an ice cream freezer, but as reported by The Cinemaholic, he shot the film three-four days a week so that the cast could diet and feel a natural sense of starvation.
From the get-go, the film drops you in the middle of a dire situation. Matt and Naomi wake up trapped, after they decided to pull over on the side of a road during the previous night as it started sleeting. The car doors and windows won’t open. Everywhere they look, they’re encased by walls of white. You feel their sense of peril and soon realize that one little mistake could cost them their lives. For instance, when Naomi knocks over a water bottle, Matt hollers at her that she needs to keep the cap on because they have very little water to spare. It’s those tiny moments that increase the sense of danger. Furthermore, the couple has to grapple with major decisions that mean life or death. Should they try to dig their way out or wait and hope that someone eventually finds them? All they have to keep them alive are a few bottles of water, a box of chocolates, and very little else. Any choice they make comes with severe risk.
Add in the fact that Naomi is pregnant and eventually gives birth in the car, and you really wonder if they’ll ever get out alive. Near the third act, the baby’s cries echo far more than the orchestral music that haunts the film’s first half. The wails are unnerving. As I watched the baby squirm in blankets and heard it cry, I kept thinking to myself, please don’t let the baby die, please don’t let the baby die.
The film’s main flaw is that the characters are too flat. Because the cast is so sparse, the film relies heavily on Piazza and Rodriguez’s performances. Both come across as a little uninspiring, but to be fair, their characters are a bit hollow. We don’t learn much about their past, their interests, and their hopes and dreams. There are moments when the problems between the two build, especially after Matt admits he lost his job and didn’t want to tell Naomi, fearing the financial ramifications, but this conflict is not driven as far as it could be. Both keep secrets from each other that should erupt far more than they actually do. They’re addressed, but not for more than a few minutes, if that. Being trapped should exacerbate their relationship woes far more than we see on screen, especially the economic uncertainty caused by Matt’s job loss and the fact that they’re new parents.
As far as survival thrillers go, Centigrade is decent. Walsh reminds us how feeble we are in extreme conditions. His wide shots of the blustery arctic surroundings depict an unforgiving and uncaring universe. That said, the human will to survive can be just as powerful. Centigrade is a suspenseful film, though one that would have benefited from richer characters. It’s worth a watch if you’re looking for something to cool you down during these waning summer days.
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