Director/co-writer Brandon Walsh (marking his feature film debut) and story originator/co-writer Daley Nixon have composed an intriguing idea that is a variation of other tense thrillers we’ve seen before—only Centigrade has the terrifying prospect of also being based on a true story. Set in 2002, a young American couple—Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez, Man on a Ledge) and Matthew (Vincent Piazza, “Boardwalk Empire”) take a trip to Norway to do a quick book tour for Naomi’s latest work. They get caught in a terrible snowstorm and decide to pull over until it passes, but they both end up falling asleep. When they wake in the morning, their car is completely snowed over, making it impossible to open the doors, roll down the windows, or get any kind of phone reception.
The couple has warm clothes and a decent food supply, but with plummeting temperatures and an ever-increasing sense of dread, the elements are running neck and neck with interpersonal tension to see which is going to make them struggle the most. Much like Bobcat Goldthwait’s masterful Willow Creek (which takes place primarily inside a tent while something that may be Big Foot threatens outside), Centigrade is both a survival tale and a domestic drama that reveals a series of small cracks in the couple’s relationship that are made worse by hunger, hypothermia, and even mild hallucinations when things get truly bad. Oh, did I mention that Naomi is roughly eight months pregnant? I probably should mention that because shockingly enough, that factors into the plot.
I don’t want to give away too many of the details on the movie, like how long they’re in the car, just how bad things get, or how they go to the bathroom. Some of these things are skimmed over and some are presented…in great detail, so get ready for a party. Director Walsh does a masterful job of making us feel like we’re right in there with this unfortunate pair, and it doesn’t take long for claustrophobia to settle in something fierce. And since nearly every frame of the movie takes place inside the vehicle, some of the things we don’t know are just as frightening as the things we do. How deep in the snow are they? Is any of their car visible to others passing by? How close are they to civilization? And what in god’s name is Naomi’s book about?
I also like that Naomi is taking notes and still writing, mostly to kill time, but also to have some sort of record of the experience. But when she suggests that she and Matt write letters to whomever might find them if they don’t make it, this sets him off and gives him extra motivation to stay alive, seeking a new way to get to the snow and ice outside for water, and maybe crack a window to let the awful smells out.
Other films—like Buried or Frozen (no, not that Frozen), both from 2010—have had similar feels to Centigrade, combining close quarters with a battle against the elements. But including such raw and fraying emotions in this tale elevates it in ways that are genuinely compelling and heart-wrenching. Rodriguez is especially strong here, and is asked to push her performance into another realm when it is discovered that she has some type of mental condition that she once took medication for but stopped when she got pregnant. It’s a harrowing revelation, but even more gripping to watch her begin to unravel. I got hooked into the predicament because you can’t stop your mind from considering what you would do in their place—spotting the wrong moves they make, applauding the right ones. The only issue I have with Centigrade is that they should have released it in the winter. Other than that, this is one well worth seeking out.
The film is available on VOD and at select drive-ins.
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