Saturday, October 1, 2016

In short: Numb (2015)

Married couple Will (Jamie Bamber) and Dawn (Stefanie von Pfetten) have hit on financial hard times. Travelling to Canada’s north for Will to take up a new job seems like a beam of light but the whole thing vaporises – though Will can’t bring himself to tell Dawn. On the start of their journey home to Vancouver by car, they pick up Lee (Aleks Paunovic) and his sister Cheryl (Marie Avgeropoulos), who’d otherwise probably freeze to death in the bitter cold outside.

Lee is an ex-con and Cheryl is certainly not inexperienced in the shady side of life, so it’s not surprising it’s not exactly love at first sight for these people. Some time later, the travellers pick up someone else, an old man nearly frozen to death. Before they can get him to a hospital, the man dies. Lee and Cheryl check his pockets and find various clues that hint at the hiding place of a bag full of gold, the loot from a robbery the dead guy must have been involved in decades ago. It’s somewhere out in the snowy wilderness. It might be lucrative for everyone involved if they teamed up and grabbed the gold for themselves.

Alas, time is pressing, so our protagonists decide to go on their adventure with little equipment – Lee and Cheryl don’t even have gloves or proper clothing for sub zero temperatures – a decided lack of trust in each other, and only Will’s survival experience.

It sounds like I’m once again summoning up the shadow of boring competence when I describe Jason R. Goode’s survival thriller with phrases like “decent”, “good enough”, or “perfectly watchable”, but this time around, it’s really rather more the shadow of perfectly okay competence, the thing that falls on a film that is never more than competent yet doesn’t bore me.

Goode’s direction isn’t particularly exciting: he uses the snowy landscapes well enough, keeps a degree of tension up, and doesn’t get in his own way. It’s the sort of effort that doesn’t show much personality or style but gets the job at hand done well enough.

The same goes for the acting. Nobody involved is doing particularly riveting work, yet there’s also never anything to complain about; these are professionals being professional actors, no more and no less.
The same again would go for a script that goes through the usual beats a Treasure-of-the-Sierra-Madre-alike hits without embarrassing itself. It’s also just the important bit too polite leading to the impression that the depths at the core of these characters just aren’t all that terribly deep, and delivering its moments of violence and survival in a somewhat too polite manner to really hit.

On the other hand, I never found myself bored watching this, which isn’t something I can say about all films this heavily coming down on the side of competence.

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