You know the feeling where you’re just too close with someone, whether it’s physical or emotional space?...
...Isn’t that just the worst? Being too tightly confined would drive most people crazy after very little time. Now, add to that hypothetical scenario the following: being literally snowed-in, stuck in a car, freezing, in the middle of rural Norway with little food and – also, she’s pregnant - and you have a pretty horrible situation that also happens to be where our main characters find themselves in Centigrade.
Centigrade, directed by Brendan Walsh (who also wrote the screenplay, along with Daley Nixon) finds our characters, well, in exactly what I just went over: being literally snowed-in, stuck in a car, freezing, in the middle of rural Norway with little food, also, she’s pregnant. It finds this out extremely fast as that’s the first scene, which also happens to be the entire set for about 90% of the movie. Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and Matt (Vincent Piazza) are on a trip for Naomi – a novelist’s – book signing in Norway. Pulling over to hopefully safely avoid some nasty freezing rain has unfortunately come back threefold to the couple, leaving them and their car victims of an avalanche, freezing them stuck inside of said car. Both characters quickly turn in to survival mode, gathering the little food and water they have on hand, and portioning it out, quickly realizing and accepting the fact they may be in this situation for more than a couple hours. Attempts to break free of the ice and snow are useless, the car isn’t starting, and, oh yeah: Naomi is goddamn pregnant. Yikes.
We’re quickly lead to believe that some – if not all – of the plot will probably be in this car, with these two characters, and I can confirm that. One might be skeptical if a film with these “restrictions” can stay interesting and genuine. Having to rely on two actors, limited set pieces, and a premise that doesn’t seem to have any otherworldly entities involved is severely limiting to how the story can play out. However, the film knows this and every single part works together to absolutely own the hell out of the premise and execution.
Brendan Walsh’s eye for camera angles utilizes the setting to excellent advantage, using the rearview mirror for a few shots during conversations. Combining the tiny confines with something we’ve all experienced, like conversing with a driver from the backseat, eye contact coming from the rearview mirror, adds to the immersion. There are brief shots of the bleak-yet-beautiful snow-covered landscape, the supposed “road” the characters were driving along being turned over from what appears to be one hell of an avalanche. Many of the single-shot scenes make the claustrophobic setting absolutely shine, and the score – or lack thereof – adds to the chilly, helpless trap our story takes place in. Which brings up the next highlight: acting.
Genesis Rodriguez and Vincent Piazza compliment the script with excellent, genuine performances. Everything from hushed dialogue to frustrated yelling is done with patience, allowing the plot to progress slowly without ever actually being hung up or drawn out, with the script flipping us a few surprises as well. Both actors give one hell of a performance, with Rodriguez really taking the cake, as we find her situation turning exponentially worse, her character’s psychological health cracking at the seams.
I’ll be honest: it was tough for me, personally, to find much to complain about this movie. If I had to be extremely skeptical, which I’m fucking amazing at – as my coworkers can attest, and prepare for an eye-roll you’ll be able to actually feel - I’d point out these very few points that might be a bigger problem for other members of this site and horror community in general:
Centigrade is a cerebral, bleak, heartbreaking tale – inspired by an actual event – that sinks in deeply to the nightmare-ish scenario of being stuck, freezing, and running out of time, doing all of those things to near perfection. Maybe the horror aspect is written between the lines, since the overall plot is both so believable and horrible, with the script and acting complimenting the entire effort from beginning to end. Acting takes what otherwise might be mundane conversation and gives it so much life in such a lifeless environment, all guided by confident camera work, direction, and pacing, with everyone involved worth keeping a close eye on.
Centigrade becomes available in select theaters and on digital/VOD August 28th from IFC Midnight.
By Zach Gorecki