Now in theaters
Ashton Holmes as Guy
Emily Blunt as Girl
Ned Ballamy as Snow Plow Driver
Martin Donovan as Evil Cop
Directed by Gregory Jacobs
Less-is-more, it’s fair to say, arguably works best in this genre. Ghost stories, especially? Sure. I’ll take an unseen assailant (say, “The Entity”) over Casper the Friendly Ghost any day – although there a few exceptions to the latter approach (“The Gravedancers”, “Poltergeist” and “The Frighteners” to name a few). “Wind Chill” doesn’t boldly utilize the less-is-more approach; it abuses it to a fault that teeters on sheer silliness. Ah, forget that. This movie is laughable – a pretentious, moody chore to sit through with a plodding, circular narrative that slips and slides through “Carnival of Souls” territory. It’s an exercise in atmosphere over credibility which can sometimes be acceptable (“Silent Hill” comes to mind), but in this case “Chill” is about as dull as watching snow melt on a warm day.
The film’s equation goes as follows: Guy and Girl (I kid you not, this is how they’re reflected in the credits) are complete strangers. Girl needs a ride home from college for Christmas break, Guy is going in the same direction and offers her a lift to their destination over five hours away. Tapping into similar road-trippin’ uneasiness explored recently by “Vacancy,” Guy and Girl don’t get along so well. In fact, she’s an insolent, rank bitch next to his mousy nature. By default, we hate them already because he won’t stick up for himself and she grows incessantly worse to a point that you want things to happen to her. And they do, beginning with what we’ll call the dramatic “worrisome toilet trap.” Girl can’t get out of a roadside diner bathroom because the door is stuck. She frets, she yells for help, she bangs on the door to no avail until, finally, she pulls the knob off. When she affixes to the door, it opens. *phew* Got out of that one!
One would think this leads to something down the road. However, this tension-getter exists only to introduce us to one of many “stuck doors” Guy and Girl have to contend with throughout the picture.
As their travels continue on, Guy opts to take a side road shortcut. To skirt being hit by an oncoming driver on this unplowed stretch of pavement, he ultimately swerves his car into a snow bank leaving Guy and his already peeved passenger stuck in the middle of nowhere. Good job, pal. Now this is where we stay for most of the film. Inside the car. Outside of the car. Building a decent air of claustrophobia. Allowing the plunging temperatures to become a tangible, proficient threat. Making way for the combined strength of Howard Cumming’s design work and Clint Mansell’s score to evoke a haunting sense of isolation. Too bad there are people in this to muck it all up. Upon realizing they’re screwed, Guy decides to hoof it back to the gas station for help, well that’s what he says; but during his distracted walkabout, he leads us to a nearby cabin where he discovers a bunch of crystallized priests. Girl, meanwhile, has her own creepy encounter – and I do mean “creepy” – with a mumbling specter that spews an eel from his mouth, the only highlight of the film in my opinion. So it’s back to the car where Guy and Girl bundle up and begin to reveal their true personalities and feelings. Guy is a stalker (oh, cool!), but Girl is forgiving anyway (what?!) and director Greg Jacobs cinches this big revelation with some horrendous and needless use of “flashback.” Somewhere along the way we’re supposed to think these two assholes are “okay” and when Girl decides to climb a phone pole (!) to plug in a phone that Guy conveniently has sitting in a shoe box in his back seat (!!!) because her cell doesn’t work…we’re asked to pray she makes it safety.
She fails, nevertheless, and it’s…you guessed it…back to the car for more spookiness. Ghosts drops in and out for a friendly “how-do-you-do,” including a supernatural highway police bigot from the ’50s who has a significant role in all of the freaky goings-on. Then the true nature of “Chill” is presented. For all of its delusions to be this higher form of brooding horror, the movie winds up wallowing in urban legend-made-real bogeyman rubbish. It’s sorta like that character in an ’80s film who puts on airs as this snobby rich kid, but really he comes from a trailer home and is ashamed his folks are pulling down Welfare checks and in order to “fit in” he scrapes together some nice clothes to look “cool.” That’s what this film is. That guy.
As good as it looks and as competent as Jacobs is with his cinematographer (there’s some beautiful work here), it’s ridiculous just how bromidic this wannabe-sophisticated chiller really is. “Wind Chill” could possibly be the worst horror entry I’ve seen to date this year.