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I'm going to break the fourth wall to begin this review of Vincent Grashaw's Coldwater. The film almost flew past my radar at this year's SXSW. It was, admittedly, a last-minute film I decided to tack on to my coverage because I noticed that Grashaw helped produce 2011's remarkable Bellflower. I feel like there's some quote about how last-minute decisions always end up being the best ones.
If not, there should be, because Coldwater ended up being one of my favorite films of the festival. The following will be my absolute best attempt to explain myself, but honestly, words won't do this film justice.
Coldwater Director: Vincent Grashaw Rating: N/A Release Date: March 10, 2013 (SXSW)
Much like the horror stories we hear about reform/boot camps, Coldwater starts off with Brad (PJ Boudousque) being forcefully taken from his home early one morning with no explanation. Upon arriving at Coldwater, a teenage reform camp run by ex-Marine Colonel Frank Reichert (James C. Burns), Brad soon becomes aware of the harsh realities of such facilities. Everything from physical to verbal abuse is used in order to break down each "inmate" until their supposed delinquent behavior is rooted out, thus allowing them a path to recovery and rehabilitation before they can enter the real world again.
Scenes detailing Brad's past are explored throughout the film, showcasing the events that lead up to his arrival to Coldwater. As time passes, he finds himself becoming more and more attuned to the program. However, when his former best friend from his previous life, Gabriel (Chris Petrovski) finds himself at Coldwater, Brad must do what he can to expose the fraud and corruption that's kept Coldwater running for so long... or else risk being killed.
Coldwater will grab you by the pants from its opening minutes and won't let go until the credits run. Even then, you can't be sure of what to expect. It can be very emotional one scene, then transition to a visually gruesome scene the next. The film is a thriller in the sense that you'll always be on edge and your eyes will always be trained on the screen anticipating what's to come.
A huge part of what made the film so captivating is Boudousque's performance. He reminded me of a young Ryan Gosling, both physically and talent-wise. His performance is constantly filled with rage and anger, but having to find the power to restrain it all. Yet, the emotion present isn't one of empathy. Rather, it's a reaction to such a violent, disturbed past.
Opposite of Boudousque is Burns, a former colonel who exploits his military background as an excuse to abuse the kids entering Coldwater. Yet, despite the fundamental differences between the two, they are essentially one and the same: two men struggling to contain their anger. Coldwater is full of these dichotomies always competing against one another (past vs. present, old vs. young, leader vs. follower, etc.) that I thoroughly enjoyed.
After my screening of the film, I looked at another critic and all I could muster was a, "...wow," to which he replied, "Yeah... I know. I didn't see it going down the path it did." And really, you won't expect much of anything that takes place during Coldwater's duration. It's a dark, dark film... one that even the coldest of showers can't wash away; one that you wouldn't even want to wash away.