The film climate I’m often exposed to and equally drawn to is one of cinematic eccentricities. These films are often viewed as morbid schlock or an exercise in senseless taboo, gratuitous violence with little or nothing to say, or to the most joyless and jaded critics, “utter trash.” Most days, I rise to battle as a righteous protector of genre films and dare to counter attack these shallow claims...
...While I will probably never lose my passion for creature features, slashers, pulpy science fiction and a quenchless thirst for B movies, there comes a time when a very different course is needed to keep my film appetite balanced and healthy. It might be a good film or it may be a not so good film, but keeping that palate open is important if I wish to expand my appreciation of mise-en-scène. Ice Blue is a new Canadian film by first time feature film director, Sandi Somers. Most notable for her short film work, Somers has now crafted a chilling mystery that may just be the genre palate cleanser I’ve needed.
Ice Blue opens with a stunning view of a private ranch on a foggy, dew frozen morning. All seems unnaturally, but pleasantly quiet and mundane as we’re introduced to Arielle, a shy, homeschooled daughter, played by Sophia Lauchlin Hirt. Arielle strolls along the family farm, helping her overprotective father, John, played by Billy MacLellan, inspect their water for contaminants that could potentially damage their farm operation. Almost instantly, a powerful bond is established between Arielle and John. We learn that Arielle’s mother is out of the picture, but for vague and possibly secretive circumstances. Her absence has allowed Arielle to grow close with her father over the years, especially since she is homeschooled and is allowed very little social interaction outside the farm. All seems relatively normal, until Arielle’s mother unexpectedly arrives at the farm to see her. Elated, puzzled with questions, but nonetheless overjoyed, Arielle embraces her mother. Arielle’s one birthday wish was to see her mother and she had despondently expressed this to John. She was now under the impression that her father arranged this for her as a gift. Her mother informs Arielle she had not heard from him. This only adds more questions to her already dizzying, feverish head. Her mother was also visiting in secret, making excuses as to why she can’t tell John why she’s visiting. Confusion eventually morphs into frustration and eventually anger. This leads her on a journey to seek out a deep well full of family secrets, death, betrayal and even more prevalent, a torrent of lies.
This moody mystery unfolds at a near perfect pace. The slow drip of exposition and secrets come to us naturally and the suspense throughout builds to a grand crescendo that, while I thought I’d solved the case, was proved very wrong. For a first time feature length film, Sandi Somers proves to be a filmmaker to keep an eye out for. The overall tone of the film channels a consistent feeling of dread and foreboding, but it never bludgeons you over the head with cliché scares or expected plot twists. Instead, Ice Blue hypnotically induces the viewer into an almost tranquil, calming state. The inevitable reveals and dread remain, of course, but the journey there is intimately involved with our main characters and their personal plights. So much so that the film is elevated to more than the already well paced plot. Sometimes, in a mystery or murder tale, the characters act as mere mechanical levers and pulleys that push the plot forward. Ice Blue challenges these contrivances to great effect. Sophia Lauchlin Hirt is the standout actress here as Arielle. It’s not only her dramatic range that is admirable, though. Arielle’s transition from a homely, soft spoken and obedient daughter to a confident, sexy and truth-seeking woman is not only believable but captivating as well. Most of the other actors range from good to serviceable. They all play their roles well and do a good enough job helping us believe their motives and reactions to the drama around them.
Weirdly enough, there is one character who sticks out in stark contrast to everyone else. The town constable, played by Kristiane McAleer. She delivers an awkward performance that comes off as a bit unengaged with our characters. It feels like she’s been practicing her lines and timing rather than naturally existing in the situations she’s placed in. In fairness, this is her first credited film role, so I can’t come down too harshly. She didn’t ruin the film by any means. Rather, she took me out of the spell the film had over me, but only temporarily. The characters are very strong in this picture, so there’s plenty more juicy drama to attach yourself to.
While the actors and plot do a great job providing us with a believable situation, Ice Blue does suffer a little from an uneven third act. As we near the final reveals, the film transforms into a cheaper, borderline B movie tale. It’s certainly not enough to ruin what has come before it, but I was left with a yearning for a more realistic ending that stays in line with the tone. The film, up until that point, has been a sincere and even endearing story about people, grievances and how we cope with them. It’s a tonal shift that dampens an otherwise convincing story. Other than that, I can’t think of many other criticisms that are notable. The cinematography by Nick Thomas paints a dreamlike, isolative tomb of an environment, closed off from the outside world. Fog rolls in often, still shots of a lake or a pasture add to the film’s quiet nature and the color dynamics appropriately stick to cool blues and grays. Music is used sparsely, which emphasizes a stillness that creates a growing unease and dread for our characters. The music that is included is used minimally and it primarily acts as background ambience to effectively support the tone.
Ice Blue isn’t a perfect film, but it is certainly an extremely good one. It works as a plot heavy mystery, a character driven drama and a slow burn horror film. I will always enjoy my preferred genres of pulpy B movies, creature features and gore soaked, politically incorrect, “trash,” as some would identify. However, There will always be room for the subgenres I don’t frequent as much or even entirely polar genres that deserve my respect, time and attention. The art of filmmaking can exist in any genre. It is a boundless medium and if I allow it, can whisk me away from my comfort zone, cleanse my palate and reveal incredibly potent cinema. Ice Blue comes highly recommended from me and it’s one that I think fans of many different genres can find something to like about it.
Ice Blue is now available in Canada on iTunes, Google Play, Shaw and Bell, and in the U.S. on iTunes, GooglePlay, DirecTV, and Amazon.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth