To combat the summer heat, IFC’s Centigrade looks to mine chills from a couple trapped in their snowed-in vehicle. But is it successful?
I am always impressed when films capitalize on the claustrophobia that accompanies limited, confined settings. Think Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin in Buried. Or the unfortunate souls stuck in an elevator in Devil. Or Jodie Foster fleeing Jared Leto in Panic Room.
A literal sense of “the walls closing in” can be used to great effect in horror and thrillers, and IFC Midnight’s Centigrade looks to continue that tradition.
The film is built on a simple conceit: pregnant Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) is in Norway for a book tour, with her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza), en tow. Late one night, they stop along a winding mountain road in the midst of a hailstorm. They fall asleep. When they awaken, their rental SUV is encased in ice and snow.
One question of confined cinema is just how much time will be spent inside said confined location. Whereas Buried never left Reynolds’ side, Devil frequently cut away from the trapped souls to check in with building security, maintenance men, and the beat cops working the case. And while much time was spent inside Panic Room, David Fincher’s camera was omniscient, traveling through walls, floors, and windows with stylish defiance.
In the hands of writer Daley Nixon and co-writer/director Brendan Walsh, Centigrade plays fair with its conceit. The minimalist ambient score is subtle, and the periodic cutaways to snow-covered mountains and overhead shots of the buried SUV contribute to a sense of “how will they escape” (or “will they escape?”) desperation.
The challenge of a premise like this is keeping the scenario interesting on an audio-visual level while making the characters’ personalities and conflicts relatable. That, and maintaining an escalating sense of dread as the situation deteriorates. I’ll admit I was surprised at how well Walsh ratcheted up the tension as things grew more dire, and the script doesn’t lean on a deus ex machina for its resolution.
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Little details, like the way Matt quickly rations the food into tissue-sized wads, or digging hash-marks into the dashboard with a key, or the way the instrument panels begin to ice over as time passes, contributes to a real sense of hopelessness. The odds of Naomi and Matt’s survival grow more dismal with each passing day.
Rodriguez and Piazza are good in their roles, capturing the love and hate that bubbles to the surface from the pressure-cooker scenario. As their prospects of being discovered lead to increasingly desperate and irrational actions, the potential of them lashing out violently toward each other becomes a very real, stomach-churning possibility.
While certain elements of Centigrade didn’t connect with me (the use of Naomi’s unborn child as a dramatic bargaining chip; the vague opening claim that the film is based on true events), it successfully maintains tension for 89 minutes. And the skillful execution guarantees you’ll feel the chill in the air.
Let us know your thoughts on Centigrade in the comments.