Written by: Thomas Moldestad, Roar Uthaug, & Martin Sundlan (story), Jan Eirik Langoen & Magne Lyngner (idea)
Directed by: Roar Uthaug
Starring: Ingrid BolsÝ Berdal, Rolf Kristian Larsen, and Tomas Alf Larsen
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
You'll catch your death.
Iím not one to automatically put a genre in a box, but if thereís any type of film that could benefit from keeping it simple, itís the slasher. Granted, things got really fun when they went super-splattery in the 80s and got whip-smart in the 90s, but Cold Prey takes us back to the real, brief glory days when the slashing was just part of an effective mix that includes atmosphere, suspense, and character development. Maybe the approach is relatively dry and no-frills, but this film is a good reminder that it doesnít take much to make an effective slasher. So many filmmakers have exploited that perceived ease and phoned in a lot of bad, gory splatter movies over the years, and Cold Prey works in reverse by attempting to make the best possible film out of its lean premise.
After a brief prologue features a small boy running from an unseen assailant, the film introduces us to five friends headed out for a snowboarding trip. When the jokester of the group, Morten (Rolf Kristian Larsen), breaks his leg, the quintet takes refuge in a nearby abandoned hotel. After poking around the place a bit, they discover that maybe itís not so abandoned after all; in fact, itís home to a pickaxe-wielding maniac intent on evicting them in a most violent manner.
Such simplicity captures the essence of the slasher, and Cold Prey makes a good argument that this genre can still thrive without resorting to gimmicks or even a whole lot of splatter. Roar Uthaug meticulously crafts a solid horror movie that feels almost like an incidental slasher despite following the same blueprint thatís been around for over three decades. Much like Carpenter in Halloween, he elevates the lean, minimalist trappings through style, atmosphere, and a lived-in world. This is not to say that the film is anywhere nearly as accomplished as Halloween, but it shares more of its DNA than it does the various knock-offs that trailed its wake (and, if youíve been playing along at home, thatís almost always a plus for me).
It also doesnít veer at all towards the self-aware side of things, eitheróyouíve got five kids who wind up stranded in the middle of snowy nowhere, but none of them want to make smart-ass comments about how itís a bad idea or whatever. That said, they donít come off as total, insufferable idiots, either. In fact, if thereís any way the film subverts genre expectations, itís in its insistence on making everyone likable, including the couple who keep pawing at each other. They need to get a room, so the setting obviously works out for them. You might guess that it doesnít work out for too long (they probably shouldnít have picked number 237) and indeed these promiscuous sorts are almost always the first to go. Cold Prey doesnít deviate too much in this respect, but it throws a few curveballs on the way to the plate; for example, the girl (Viktoria Winge) ends up being hesitant about it being her first time, and the guy (Endre Martin Midtstigen) is initially pissed about the cocktease before coming to his senses.
Of course, the killer doesnít give a shit and proceeds as normal. Viewers might care a little bit more, though, and thatís where Cold Prey really succeeds: the deaths have actual weight, and thereís a fucked up, tragic sort of feeling to a guy lamenting how may have screwed up a budding relationship, all the while oblivious that his girlfriendís been hacked up right down the hall. Few slashers take the time to let their deaths impact like that, but Uthaug really gives Cold Prey room to breathe up front by introducing a natural, lived-in set of characters and establishing relationships that pay dividends once the slashing starts. Anyone familiar with the formula will quickly discern who the final girl will be, but Uthaug uses that familiarity to set up Jannicke (Ingrid BolsÝ Berdal in the Laurie Strode mold: sheís a sensible girl who is tough as nails once she realizes sheís being terrorized by a madman.
Uthaugís approach is quite deliberate: he spends over forty minutes establishing these characters before the slashing gets started in earnest. At the same time, he establishes a palpably dreadful atmosphere; the icy setting obviously recalls The Shining, and itís got a similar, overbearingly desolate vibe going for it since the gorgeous scope photography reveals an expansive, isolate vista. This is a true ďmiddle of nowhereĒ slasher that thrives on desolation and claustrophobia because the interiors are dingy and decrepit; I like how the film gets progressively smaller and more intimate as the friends work their way down into the bowels of this hellhole to discover that somethingís amiss. On that note, Cold Prey is on point, as Uthaugís pacing precisely escalates from seemingly innocuous discoveries (the hotel register hasnít been used since the mid-70s) to more gruesome finds, such as dried blood and an assortment of torture implements. Before long, one of their number disappears, and the survivors soon find themselves in a grueling game of cat and mouse thatís packed with twists and turns.
To be such a great slasher, the filmís weakest elements are arguably the stuff thatís most associated with the genre: the kills are more functional than they are showy since Cold Prey isnít concerned with inventive splatter that invites awe, and the killer himself is a mostly nondescript husk buried away under winter gear that features a pickaxe as a prominent accessory (Norwayís answer to Harry Warden, I guess). The guy is an even blanker slate than Michael Myers for the most part since the film reveals his sparse backstory in piecemeal fashion; some bits from that prologue become relevant when combined with a late flashback to give you some idea of what has driven him to go on killing sprees and toss bodies into glacial cracks. This one definitely isnít a hero slasher where youíre rooting for this guy to deliver crazy, gore-laden murder sequences since itís more low key.
Weíre behind the curve on Cold Prey here in the States, and Iím especially late to the game; while it debuted in its native Norway back in 2006, it took a few years to come to DVD here, at which point the sequel was already released overseas as well. I always assumed that its US release would be more imminent than it actually was; since Cold Prey II is only now making its way here thanks to Shout Factory, it seems like a good time to finally dive in (thereís a third film too, but who knows when that one will be released?). Anchor Bay did the honors for the original film and decked it out with a nice presentation (that includes a 5.1 Norwegian track and stereo English dub) and a wealth of extras that includes an alternate ending, a behind the scenes feature, bloopers, a couple of short films, a music video, and a handful of trailers and TV spots. Better late than never is an appropriate adage here, since Cold Prey is one of the best post-Scream slasher offerings. Heck, itís better than a lot of the ones that came before it, too. Buy it!
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