Written by: Joe Gangemi and Steven Katz
Directed by: Gregory Jacobs
Starring: Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes
Reviewed by: Brett G.
“Remember, the highway's your best bet.”
So many areas have their own local legends and ghost stories, but they all seem to start the same: some tragedy befell an old house or an old road, and the locals have been wary of it ever since. Producers George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh take a well-worn path with Wind Chill; that is to say they go off the beaten path to one of those old, deserted, rural roads that continues to tell a haunting tale.
It’s finals week, and a girl’s plans for traveling home fall through. This forces her to hitch a ride with a fellow student, a sort of socially-awkward guy with a beat-up old car that’s seen better days. Along the way, the guy decides to take a scenic route, where an oncoming car causes them to crash into a snow bank. Truths are soon revealed about the guy and his motivations, but not before a series of strange events begin to occur, as our characters are visited by a sinister police officer, ominous priests, and other strange apparitions that may claim them before the icy elements can.
Those who decry the gory blunt-force-trauma approach of many modern horror movies will likely appreciate Wind Chill. It’s a succinct, compact little ghost tale that relies on suspense and atmosphere to deliver its chilling story. The minimalist approach uses a simple setting, highlighted by some excellent photography that captures a moody isolation. This is punctuated with some low-key, yet disturbing images and some startlingly effective jumps that will jolt you from your seat. The setting itself is the real star though--it’s ominous, overbearing, and just downright cold and dreary. Cold, isolated haunts are a familiar place for horror fans, and this one is just about as effectively bleak as any.
There’s not a preponderance of shocks due to the film’s character-driven nature. Our two unnamed protagonists (referred to as simply “the guy” and “the girl” in the credits) are mostly believable characters. They endure some repetitive Christmas tunes and the expected awkwardness between two strangers before thawing a bit towards each other. Emily Blunt will be yet another famous name that will have horror on her early resume, and she shows off the chops that have vaulted her onto the A-list in recent years. Her performance is appropriately icy and resolved before she manages to drum up sympathy in the later act. Ashton Holmes is an adequate complement who brings a reserved, Cera-like awkwardness that contrasts well. The chemistry between the two is good, even though the film takes some leaps with the relationship between the two characters.
As a ghost tale, there’s plenty to like here. It’s an understated one that hesitates to connect every dot for the viewer; there’s a lot of ideas in the narrative about eternal recurrence and the interminable nature of ghost stories. It doesn’t all quite come together perfectly, but there are plenty of twists and turns along the way to keep viewers on their toes. Ultimately, it feels a bit too undercooked, but there’s an interesting implication that this ghost story is never quite finished; instead, its tragic history is only added to. The ending also manages to resonate despite its flaws, largely due to Clint Mansell’s (another emerging name to watch in the coming years) eerie and melancholy score that reflects a sense of emptiness and loss.
Often moody and sometimes creepy, Wind Chill is an effective exercise in subtlety and simple scares that rely on fleeting imagery and solid performances. The film went straight-to-DVD, but don’t let that stigma scare you off. The Sony disc features both an anamorphic widescreen and full-screen presentation, and a 5.1 soundtrack that really allows the film’s sound design to shine (there’s a nice standout scene where our characters’ car is being assaulted by unseen elements). The only special features are a film-maker commentary and a making-of feature. Viewers who are looking for a chilling tale will find a somewhat flawed but entertaining film; throw it in one night when the weather outside is frightful. Rent it!
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