'Centigrade': Film Review

Centigrade Still 1 - IFC Midnight Publicity -H 2020
Courtesy of IFC Midnight
Never raises the temperature.
8/28/2020

A couple find themselves trapped in their car buried under snow and ice in Brendan Walsh's thriller.

The risk with making a movie involving characters confined in a small space is that the audience can wind up feeling more claustrophobia than suspense. Such turns out to be the case with Brendan Walsh's directorial debut, about a couple trapped in a car during a blizzard. Neither tense nor thematically resonant enough to overcome its literally small-scale aspects, Centigrade proves as much an ordeal for its viewers as its characters.

Supposedly "inspired by real events," the film wastes no time establishing its premise. It begins with married couple Matthew (Vincent Piazza, Boardwalk Empire) and Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez, Quibi's The Fugitive) waking up in their SUV, which has been buried under snow and ice. While traveling through wintry Norway as part of Naomi's book tour, they had pulled over to wait out a sudden blizzard, only to fall asleep and find themselves in a life-and-death situation when they woke up.

Naomi, who we eventually learn is eight months pregnant, thinks that they should take action, suggesting that they break a window and crawl through the snow to safety. Matthew takes the opposite approach, saying that trying to escape would be too risky and that they should simply wait for the help that he's sure is bound to arrive soon. It's but the first of many arguments the couple engage in during the course of their travails.

It would be a pleasure to report that things get more engrossing from there, but Centigrade never manages to satisfyingly expand on its initial idea. To the filmmaker's credit, he certainly succeeds in conveying the dread and despair of the perilous situation. But as time goes on, days turning into weeks, the characters' ordeal proves less than interesting cinematically despite some undeniably dramatic developments.

At times, the film, scripted by Walsh and Daley Nixon, has the feel of an Off-Broadway play, with its characters confined to a single setting and taking the opportunity to work out interpersonal issues even as they grapple with hunger, thirst and extreme cold. Indeed, the material might have worked better onstage, with less of a need for cinematic tropes that here go mainly unrealized. Anyone hoping for the narrative twists of something like the 2010 Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried are likely to be sorely disappointed. That's not to mention the implausibility of a woman in her final month of pregnancy traveling via automobile through a country known for its particularly harsh winters.

Technically, the film works well enough. Walsh, whose extensive television directorial credits include episodes of Nurse Jackie and Friends From College, delivers visual and aural vibrancy despite the inherent limitations. And Piazza and Rodriguez certainly give it their all under what must have been arduous conditions. Working within an extremely small and obviously freezing environment, they even took off significant amounts of weight during the filming, which was done sequentially. The performers, a real-life couple (Walsh deliberately looked for one, a directorial conceit that seems superfluous in this case), are both excellent, although Rodriguez impresses more thanks to her character's intense physical and emotional demands.

By the time Centigrade reaches its underwhelming conclusion, which seems to take forever to arrive, you've stopped caring about the characters' fates. It's a fatal flaw, considering that you've been trapped with them for nearly 90 minutes.

Available on VOD, digital platforms and drive-in theaters.
Production companies: Manhattan Productions, Phiphen Pictures
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Genesis Rodriguez, Vincent Piazza
Director: Brendan Walsh
Screenwriters: Daley Nixon, Brendan Walsh
Producers: Bradley J. Ross, Molly Conners, Amanda Bowers, Vincent Morano, Brendan Walsh, Jane Oster, Keri Nakamoto
Executive producers: Gabriel Rosenzvit, Charles Scharfman, Mark Scharfman, Kathryn Hutcheson, Wilson Rivas, Kristin Prigmore Adams, Jerry Topitzer, Lori Abrams
Director of photography: Seamus Tierney
Production designer: Lauren Crawford
Editor: Bradley J. Ross
Costume designer: Arianna Gallo
Composers: Matthew Wang, Trey Toy
Casting: Mia Cusamano, Meghan Rafferty

89 min.