Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wind Chill (2007)

A college student (Emily Blunt) is going home to Delaware for Christmas. In a moment of spontaneity, she decides to not drive home by bus but look for a ride.

She finds something appropriate on the college's ride board. What at first looks like a stroke of luck soon turns into the ride from hell when she oozes all the warmth and friendliness of the rudest person on Earth and the guy (Ashton Holmes) she is driving with turns out to be a wee bit creepy.

While he takes her on "the scenic route" through the woods in the dark in the middle of nowhere, she starts to realize that he isn't from Delaware at all and has a rather stalkerish interest in her.

That's not going to be her main concern for long, though. Suddenly, a car nearly crashes into theirs, leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere with an oncoming cold front that would make walking back to the next gas station pretty dangerous. Strange thing about that car, too. It didn't leave any tire tracks.

Even stranger are the ghosts that are starting to appear to the two. It seems as if Very Bad Things have once happened on this stretch of road - the sort of things that like to repeat themselves with catastrophic consequences for anyone living passing by at the wrong time.

I have to admit that I approach contemporary US horror films with a certain trepidation. Too often have I been burned by dilettantish in all the wrong way indie flicks, boring gore fests or godawfully stupid mainstream fare.

But sometimes, good, suspenseful horror still does happen in the USA. I wouldn't necessarily expect it to be directed by Steven Soderbergh's regular assistant director and sometimes producer Gregory Jacobs, and produced by Soderbergh and George Clooney, but if they are happy to ignore their Academy Award baiting ways to make a fine, small film like this, I'm certainly not going to complain.

"Suspenseful" really is the important word here. Wind Chill is more interested in suspense than in being scary or disturbing, a fact which I am sure some people will dislike, but I am not one of them. The important thing to me is that the film is successful at being what it tries to achieve and that is something Wind Chill is.

Jacobs uses claustrophobia, understandable distrust and (happily for this snow lover) snow and cold to built his film's mood slowly but surely, keeping the right plot beats coming at the right time like every good genre filmmaker should. Nothing about this is very original, of course, but it just plain works for the economic 90 minutes running time. It's a very concentrated film with very clear ambitions, obviously made by people who were also very clear about how to achieve this ambition.

The whole "make a suspenseful horror film with only two main characters in claustrophobic whiteness" project could still have failed through the dubious skills of C&W Channel actors in way over their heads, but Blunt and Holmes (not being C&W Channel actors) give note perfect performances that make their not directly inspired character arcs tolerable enough, and their characters sympathetic. It could really give one hope for youngish actors.

Wind Chill is what I like to call a classical B picture - not the sort of film people will seek out in droves or call a work of genius, but the sort of film that will keep you enthralled for two hours if you are able to enjoy something simple and straightforward but not stupid.


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