I hate snow. Perhaps it’s because my exposure to snow has been the rare snowstorms that hit North Carolina once or twice a year, leaving a wake of dirty black ice in its wake, but I’ve genuinely never enjoyed the experience of being in the snow. It’s cold, wet, and oftentimes painful with our kind of snow, and all I think about is going back inside once I’m out in it. This is why Centigrade sparked a sense of fear in me when watching the trailer. Snow sucks and being trapped underneath it in a frozen hellscape of solitude within a car feels like the worst punishment possible as a human being. While it’s nowhere near the only horror film to deal with the cold, there’s something so straightforward and humble about Centigrade’s approach to it that felt endearing to me.
Centigrade doesn’t give you much to go on in its first act. After a simple title card explaining that the film follows a pregnant author traveling through Norway with her husband on a book tour and that the film is “inspired by true events,” the film drops you right into the action. Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) is an author who wakes up in her car with her husband, Matt (Vincent Piazza), underneath a mound of snow and ice after pulling over during the night to allow a severe ice storm to pass before continuing driving. Unable to break through the ice that has trapped them in, the very pregnant Naomi and Matt must fashion a plan for survival in the aggressive cold to try to flag the attention of the rare passerby to save them.
Centigrade is an exceedingly simple film, as many directorial debuts often are. Director Brendan Walsh utilizes the tight, unforgiving structure of their small car pinned underneath tons of ice. The claustrophobic elements of the film are very jarring and effective, but are unfortunately brought down by the fact that there wasn’t a single anchor point to care about here. Our two protagonists simply are not likable, with little to root for in their life, relationship, or even their own survival. Add in the fact that both of them continually do stupid things that are so obviously the wrong thing to do in said situation and you get a film that’s more frustrating than engaging.
That’s not to say Rodriguez and Piazza don’t do well with the roles, they do, because they are obviously both proven actors who can take on very unlikable roles should they choose. They do find a groove in ironing out the tension and terror between the two characters, even if it’s an uphill battle trying to find anything to sympathize with. You can see the pain in their arguments and squabbles throughout the film, but you’re still left wondering why you’re watching two very talented actors argue about what one character is writing in their journal while they’re freezing to death. It all seems so petty and unimportant that ends up wasting two talents who both have shown a newfound proclivity for horror.
Luckily, Centigrade does genuinely succeed when it comes to its visuals, if only because there aren’t many to speak of. Cutting to shots of the weather outside of the car felt like it was breaking the claustrophobia of the film at times, but the film does succeed in making it feel like you really are trapped in this cold car with these cold characters, and you want out…now. Walsh stages the car in a way that both feels constrictive as well as expansive at times where you get the eventual rationing of space between each row of seats and the trunk, making it all feel like different areas of a much larger room. It is a dichotomy that was impressive to see from a first -filmmaker taking on such a small-scale film.
Centigrade never felt like it was trying to be this grand statement on anything other than what it was portraying in its main storyline, and I do applaud the film’s simplicity in that regard. Iit just becomes harder and harder to engage with even the simplest of thrills when the protagonists are so hard to root for. Unlike other films with unlikable protagonists, there isn’t any grand, gory payoff with Centigrade (nor should there be), and that makes everything about the central characters feel so pointless. Walsh does show promise as a filmmaker who can do impressive things with a camera, and the two actors in the film do very well under Walsh’s direction, but it all just brought me back to the central idea tethering this whole thing together: I still hate snow.
In select theaters and on VOD August 28th, 2020.
For more information, visit the official Centigrade website.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.