There are some things that are just inherently horrifying to anyone. Being trapped in a tiny car under thick ice is definitely one of them. You don’t need to be claustrophobic to get freaked out by the very idea of that happening. It is just naturally a scary situation to find yourself in. So Centigrade, a movie about this very subject should be one of those movies that, pardon the pun, chills you to the core throughout.
Based on a true story, though I had a lot of trouble finding any information on it while Googling, the film sounds like it should be a slow, thrilling, psychological movie that keeps you glued despite its restrictive space and small cast. It should be like some terrifying My Dinner With Andre. Yet something is missing from Centigrade that makes it feel more like what you’d expect My Dinner with Andre to feel like: boring.
Director: Brendan Walsh
Release Date: Aug. 14, 2020 (Theatrical, VOD)
Centigrade starts off in media res as Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) wakes up in a car with her husband, Matt (Vincent Piazza), that has been completely frozen over. It turns out they had been on a tour for her book in a remote part of Norway and pulled off the road during an ice storm. Now, with little food and with Naomi pregnant, they can’t get out of their car. What turns into what they think will be a day or so of waiting extends into more than 20 days inside the car as rescue doesn’t come and the remote road their on sees little traffic.
The tension int he film should come naturally. Matt and Naomi argue over whether they should leave, how to handle food, and reveal a few secrets about their lives to each other that a married couple probably shouldn’t keep secret. However, nothing ever feels that tense, even as the food starts to run out and Naomi begins to go into labor the overall feeling of the film is simply of stuff going on. It’s hard to pinpoint why the tension doesn’t increase but part of it is that Matt and Naomi don’t really unravel all that much. There isn’t that mention tension between the two characters except for light arguments and one instance of hypothermia so you never feel any threat between the two of them.
That lack of tension between the pair may have been OK if director Brendan Walsh had done a better job of creating a sense of impending doom. The ice and cold should be the third character in the movie, steadily encroaching in on the couple. Instead, the story frames it as almost stagnant. You never get a sense of increasing danger so the movie never feels like it’s going forward. We should feel as if we’re slowly creeping towards death alongside these characters but, instead, everything sits, neither pushing nor pulling the audience in any direction.
Walsh’s direction doesn’t help much. How he manages to film almost entirely inside a car but not make the movie feel claustrophobic is a mystery. The film cuts outside of the car every so often to show snow and ice coming down or a passing automobile on the road but that cut takes us, as the viewer, away from the entrapment of the film’s characters. It’s a series of odd directorial decisions like this that make Centigrade feel more like a clumsy experiment than an engaging thriller.
The movie isn’t boring to watch overall, however. Both Rodriguez and Piazza turn in strong performances in a film that features no other actors. When they’re given something to chew on they’re able to ratchet things up and you start worrying about the future but the film’s pacing gets in the way too often. By the time the movie is nearing the end, you begin to get pulled in thanks to a few key turn of events but the payoff never feels complete because of how Walsh handled the majority of the film. There is definitely an edge-of-your-seat-with-worry movie hiding in here but it just can’t come out.
Centigrade might be the kind of film you use to flip onto while channel surfing and you stayed tuned to see how it ended but then forgot about it the next day. That, of course, rarely happens anymore in the age of streaming and, unfortunately, it is not the kind of film you’d pick to watch on its own merits. Freeze this one out of your watch list and hold out for something that could be better.