Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"It Would Be Just This Sweet, Funny Story We'd Have"

"Like walking in the rain and the snow 
When there's no where to go
And you're feeling like a part of you is dying
And you're looking for the answer in her eyes..."
 -The Things We Do For Love
by 10CC 

When I was in college, I used to bike home about 10 miles down an old highway that had fallen into disuse when the new freeway was built parallel to it. During one semester, I noticed repeatedly that a good looking girl from my Poly-sci class would drive by me at some point on this road every Tuesday and Thursday in the late afternoon. One day, as I was locking my bike up outside class, the girl walked by me and remarked that I must bike a long distance. I tried to say something cool like, 'Ain't no thang baby', but what came out was something like "un-hm, sure".  Much as I wanted to further wow her with my mad verbal skills, she sat on the opposite side of the classroom and I couldn't figure out a nonchalant way to get any face time. I did make some progress moving from Stranger-burg to Acquaintance-ville with the young lady, but the semester was quickly coming to a close, and I would be transferring to State the next year. I had to do something quick, but what? 

In the psychological horror film, Wind Chill, two students car pool together to Delaware during Christmas break. Ashton Holmes plays the seemingly nice, somewhat nerdy, college boy who is all too eager to give the beautiful, if distant, Emily Blunt character a lift in his somewhat crappy car. Initially, both characters, neither of which are named in the story, come off very unlikable with Blunt's displaying some great rudeness via cell phone early in the ride and Holmes' clearly infatuated boy trying, without success, to turn the ride-share into a date. The film does a nice job of heaping on the paranoia, as Blunt's character becomes more concerned with Holmes' and her increasingly vulnerable situation. Things go from bad to worse as Holmes' character impulsively attempts to take a scenic route that strays from the main highway in an attempt to jump start the "date". This makes neither very happy.

The film was directed by Gregory Jacobs, who has worked primarily as Steven Soderbergh's first A.D. for the past decade, but has also worked with the likes of Hal Hartley and Richard Linklater. Jacobs does a really fine job of not over-explaining or stating the obvious in the early going. He even throws in a few red herring-type details (like a stuck door, a lazy-eyed cashier and a lack of a rear license plate on the protagonist's car) that would steer even the most ardent horror fan onto the wrong track. There is the obligatory scene dealing with bad cell phone reception which seems to be ubiquitous in modern day thrillers, but outside of that, the film stays fairly fresh.

Once into the second act, the story begins to crystalize, but still maintains some unpredictability and a spooky atmosphere, which is pretty impressive considering it's set mostly in a car. The atmosphere is bolstered by a simple, understated score by Clint Mansell, who composed the music for most of Aronofsky's films and also did the sublime score for Moon. The film looks far superior to the average low-budget horror flick especially the snowy, nighttime landscape shots. Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen who shot Brotherhood of the Wolf and Silent Hill among many others films really earned his money with a few shots in particular where images or people needed to be seen by the viewer despite the supposed darkness. Unlike a lot of horror shot at night, I never felt the need to strain to see something, but it still felt believably dark.

Ashton Holmes, who is probably best known as the son in A History of Violence, does a passable job as the "guy" in this film. However, it was Emily Blunt who was surprisingly good in a part that was a lot more interesting, strong and proactive than the average 'woman in danger' role to which actresses are usually relegated. She ranges from bitchy and put upon, to angry, to scared, to sad, all very smoothly and believably. It's a shame she doesn't do more stuff like this instead of the mainstream fluff she normally acts in. The best of the acting talent though is my boy Martin Donovan who never disappoints. He has a small, but pivotal role as a cop in the film, and whether playing good guy or bad, he always brings the intensity.
With Blunt and Donovan's performances, the decent story, the cool wintertime cinematography, sharp direction and solid soundtrack, it's hard not to recommend this film. It is a low budget, modest effort that nevertheless gets its atmospheric horror job done. One odd note is that the movie is rated R for no reason I can figure out other than that it scared the MPAA too much. It's currently available for free on Crackle.

Oh, what ever happened to me, my bike and the good-looking college coed? We started ride-sharing of course.

Score 7.5/10 

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