Saying that a trip is going to be “unforgettable” is the equivalent of saying “I’ll be back” in a horror film…
…”I’ll be back” to horror fans means you most definitely won’t be back, and if you do show up, it’s going to be with a cleaver in your head. When a character says “unforgettable”, they’re right. That trip will be unforgettable. Just not at all the way they think, because “unforgettable” is an omen. It means danger. It means terror. It means those characters probably won’t make it back home. “I’ll be back” and an “unforgettable” trip in horror films are guaranteed death wishes. What the phrase “unforgettable” doesn’t mean, though, is that the film itself will be unforgettable.
Which brings me to the pre-Christmas Christmas horror flick, Let It Snow.
Directed by Stanislav Kapralov (making his feature directorial debut) and written by Kapralov and Omri Rose, Let It Snow follows Mia (Ivanna Sakhno) and her boyfriend (Alex Hafner), who have travelled to the Ukraine for a snowboarding trip. After learning that the slope they want to make snow waves on, Black Ridge, is off limits thanks to a series of mysterious deaths—knowledge courtesy of the creepy hotel clerk (Tinatin Dalakishvili)—Mia and her fellow decide screw it, we’re going anyway! Once they get there though, they soon became separated and find themselves hunted by a murderous figure on a snowmobile.
Now that I read that, it actually sounds pretty silly, but Let It Snow is anything but a good time.
Common with any Christmas horror film, Let It Snow is the sort of bleak survivalist story that gives you that same, depressed gut feeling you might have when Kate regales everyone with the tale of how her dad died in Gremlins. Shot in a constant hue of soft blues and whites that give off the vague sense of living in an asylum, Let It Snow is guaranteed to piss all over your white winter wonderland vibe. Not surprising for a film that begins with a voiceover that goes, “Three years ago was my last happy Christmas”. Oh, and then follow that up with a little girl being left for dead after a skier runs into her.
Yeesh. Let It Snow will have you pouring yourself some hot chocolate and Schnapps before we even meet our protagonists.
As for Mia and her listening-challenged boyfriend, Sakhno and Hafner both do an admirable job of bringing out the stereotypical characters we’ve become so used to seeing with couple vacation horror films like this. Mia is your average shy, quiet (and of course smarter) woman who knows they shouldn’t go to Black Ridge against the warnings of the hotel, while her boyfriend, to no surprise, refuses to listen. Seriously, perhaps the most horrifying thing about Let It Snow is that these two Americans are so stubborn and entitled, that the boyfriend continues to proclaim to anyone who can be of service, “we came all the way from America,” as if that should somehow grant them access to the death mountain. Christ, it’s embarrassing! Yet still so awfully truthful. If that’s not bad enough, they even look the other way after seeing a dead body taken away, discovered at the ridge. Ah, Americans.
Sakhno gives a strong performance as a woman struggling to survive the harshness of the snow and the deranged killer on her tail, bringing a fierce determination coupled with a sad loneliness, even before she becomes separated. Throughout Let It Snow, we’re given flashbacks of what lead up to this trip, at one point seeing Mia and her boyfriend in bed as he tells her he’s taking them to the perfect place for them, a place Mia barely registers, as it feels like this trip is more for him, since she’s only been snowboarding a short time, despite being a “regular snow demon” as he calls her. It’s a point that’s unfortunately never played up in the film, but there’s a clear divide between what Mia wants and what her boyfriend thinks she wants.
But hey, he promised the trip would be “unforgettable”. Can’t say no to that.
Making Mia wish she had said no is the ominous killer on a snowmobile, dressed all in black leather, looking like Charlie Sheen in The Wraith and swapping out the desert for the icy landscape. You might think the idea of a killer roaming around on a snowmobile is kind of silly, but Kapralov seems to take a lot of inspiration from Spielberg’s Duel, giving the snowmobile and the killer himself a roar that sounds more animal than anything machine. The snowmobile, like the truck in Duel, begins to feel like its own entity, with the rider just there to give a face to what is hunting Mia, as we see the deadly rider lurking in corners of the frame, circling Mia like a mountain shark.
Chilling snowmobile killer or not, though, Let It Snow suffers tremendously from its own concept. See, this might work great if Let It Snow were a slasher, zipping around the mountain with a snowmobile decked out in blades (why not?), or if Mia even had her own snowmobile, but as is, Kapralov’s film loses tension as a repetitive nature creeps into the bones of the script. What starts off as nail-biting encounters with Mia fighting to dig herself under the snow and avoid the killer’s prodding blades, eventually becomes more of a cat and mouse game without an actual mouse. The killer shows up, toys with Mia, and rides away, only to encounter her later. They could end Mia at any time. Cat and mouse games are great, but only when the mouse fights back. Mia never fights back. She never has any means of getting away. She’s simply a cat toy on the floor, waiting to see if the cat will play this time or not. And what’s the point of a survival thriller where the heroine never fights back?
Oddly enough, for such a melancholic, bleak experience, Let It Snow is peppered with over the top moments, like the killer causing a freaking avalanche with bombs to mess with Mia, one of the scariest uses of a snowman that I’ve ever seen, and a beautiful garden of roses placed in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by nothing but white emptiness. Let It Snow giftwraps itself as survival horror with a slasher flare and some intriguing imagery, but does neither all that successfully, with a finale that is as frustrating as anything I’ve experienced in the genre this year.
Still, Sakhno carries the film with a gut-wrenching display of fierce determination, the locations are breathtaking, and we can never have enough Christmas horror. Just don’t expect Let It Snow to be anything more than a dark and depressing lump of coal in your stocking.
Let It Snow is now available on DVD, VOD and Digital from Lionsgate.
By Matt Konopka