Centigrade

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Centigrade
"Shot in sequential order with the actors encouraged to fast as much as possible during the shoot, Centigrade is all about realism." | Photo: Courtesy of IFC

When you see the line 'based on true events' attached to a film, exercise caution. Centigrade uses sleight of hand to give viewers the impression that it's a reenactment of a true story, but in fact it combines elements of several stories and neither of its characters is based on a real person. Whilst this may weaken its appeal for some viewers, it is a well-informed, realistic take on what it's like to survive being trapped in freezing conditions, and a reminder that this scenario is something many people have had to face.

Genesis Rodriguez plays Naomi, a US author travelling through Norway on a book tour in the company of her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza). Faced with a blizzard one night, they pull off the road to wait it out and both inadvertently fall asleep. When they awaken, they're surrounded by a thick wall of ice. They can't move the car, which they realise is probably invisible from the road, perhaps even from the air. They can't get a phone signal.

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The disagreements begin immediately. Naomi, who is heavily pregnant (actually a positive thing when it comes to surviving extreme cold) wants to break a window and use it to dig, but Matt thinks this is folly. He points out that they could be miles from habitation and have no idea which way to go. Perhaps not understanding the insulating properties of snow, he argues that once the window is broken they will lose their last measure of defence against the elements. He'd rather wait for a thaw. They ration out their small amount of water and food, and focus on trying to stay as warm and calm as possible.

Shot in sequential order with the actors encouraged to fast as much as possible during the shoot, Centigrade is all about realism. Working inside a giant ice cream freezer, the actors are genuinely cold and don't have to give any thought to shaking or shivering, leaving them free to concentrate on the drama. They're distracted, of course, but only as their characters would be. This is one film that will benefit from coming out during the Covid-19 pandemic, as viewers are likely to relate more strongly to the idea of being cooped up in close quarters with the same person for a prolonged period of time. Suffice to say that the relationship comes under serious strain. This isn't so much about the emergence of shocking secrets, as implied by some of the publicity material, as it is about all the little pressures that couples try to tune out day to day, now magnified by circumstance, becoming overwhelming.

Whilst the actors have plenty to chew on, the setting presents more of a challenge for director Brendan Walsh. He actually shot it using two cars which had been sliced in half, but the continuity work is superb and it's easy to believe it's a single vehicle. The actors change the position and angle of their bodies from scene to scene to create some sense of movement, but not too much - after all, what Walsh wishes to convey is the sense of days blurring into one another, compounded by the fact that hunger is making it harder and harder for his characters to keep track of time.

Despite all this good technical work, Centigrade never quite sparks into life. Somewhere amidst all that necessary numbness and confusion, the tension is lost. It's a solid little film and cannot be faulted in its realism (even if it does discreetly overlook some less salubrious matters, like what is being done with bodily waste), but it doesn't make the impact that it should. That said, if you suffer from claustrophobia, you should probably avoid watching it close to bedtime.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2020
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A married couple find themselves trapped in their frozen vehicle after a blizzard and struggle to survive amid plunging temperatures and unforeseen obstacles.

Director: Brendan Walsh

Writer: Daley Nixon, Brendan Walsh

Starring: Genesis Rodriguez, Vincent Piazza, Mavis Simpson-Ernst

Year: 2020

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

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