Mark Reviews Movies

WIND CHILL

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gregory Jacobs

Cast: Emily Blunt, Ashton Holmes, Martin Donovan, Ned Bellamy, Ian Wallace

MPAA Rating:   (for violence and disturbing images)

Running Time: 1:27

Release Date: 4/27/07 (limited)


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Here's a horror movie with all the right elements in place.  It has a minimalist, claustrophobic setting, a good sense of timing with its scares, a haunting score, a sense of tension building under the surface, and a solid performance from its star.  It has all of these, and yet Wind Chill is still dumb and utterly pointless.  All of these qualities, which would typically make an ideal setup for an effective thriller, serve a wholly generic ghost story, and therein lies the rub.  The ghost story turns out to be the crux of movie, and it renders the efforts of director Gregory Jacobs moot.  Not only have we seen this exact story before more times than should mentioned, but it's also made all the more frustrating because it has no connection to whatever indistinct lessons the heroine is supposed to have learned.  Joe Gangemi and Steven Katz' screenplay tries to elevate the clichéd backstory that takes focus late in the movie with a philosophical angle, but a ghost story is still a ghost story, no matter what you call it.  It's a shame, because Wind Chill could have worked, if only I had given a damn.

It's just about time for Christmas break, and a girl (Emily Blunt) has finished her last final and text messaging on her cell.  She's about to take the bus home to Delaware, after breaking up with her boyfriend and hence ending her plans to go to Cabo for the break.  The anonymous friend on the other end of the messages suggests she look at the ride board.  After class dismisses, she does, and lo and behold, someone is offering a ride to Delaware.  At 3:12 p.m. (seriously, the movie's that specific with time) two days before Christmas, she meets up with the guy (Ashton Holmes) who put up the posting in the parking lot.  The car's a mess, full of junk (he got kicked out of his apartment, he tells her), and the passenger window is stuck.  They accidentally leave behind a bag of groceries (this does become important later) and hit the road.  The guy's upset because she talks on her cell phone instead of to him, and he emits a further creepy vibe when he comments on her glasses—the ones she never wears outside of the dorm.  They stop at a gas station full of creepier customers, and on a scenic detour, a car sideswipes them, sending them into a snow drift.

When they awaken sometime later, the girl is reasonably suspicious of the guy.  Turns out, he's not from Delaware; he used the ride as a chance to talk to her for uninterrupted hours on end ("It'd be a cute story we could tell people").  Here's where the movie starts to really get somewhere.  It's already established an uncomfortable sense about the guy, hinting at his lie and a potentially unbalanced personality, and here she is stuck with him in the middle of nowhere.  Those groceries were an assortment of her favorite foods, and he knows way too much about her.  There's no cell phone signal, and they only pick up AM radio stations (the girl has a knack for only-useful-in-this-kind-of-situation trivia, e.g., FM waves can't travel into a valley).  The car is surrounded by miles of snowy woods, but with the wind chill reaching down to 30 below (thanks, radio weather man), the interior of the car is the only logical place for either of them to be.  Yes, it's a genuinely eerie set of circumstances our heroine finds herself in, but then the guy notices there are no tire tracks from the car that ran them off the road.  Then some strange people are wandering the woods.

They're alone, but they're not, if you catch my drift.  Even at this point, we can go along with the story, even though the "stalkerish" guy ends up not being so sinister and the girl also has a helpful knowledge of the degrees of frostbite.  Even when the guy follows some of the figures in the woods and finds a load of frozen bodies, the movie's still working to a lesser degree.  Jacobs has his timing and sense of the ominous down pat.  The moments of random shocks genuinely surprise, and he's not afraid to have shadowy figures enter and leave the frame of the car window for effective foreshadowing beforehand.  Clint Mansell's ambient and haunting score heightens the whole affair.  Then a highway patrolman (Martin Donovan) appears and keeps appearing, and suddenly, the script's lost its bearings completely.  There's flashback upon flashback, suggesting why the patrolman's there, and then a most helpful snowplow driver (Ned Bellamy) fills in the rest for the girl, only so that the whole cycle can repeat itself.  See, this isn't a ghost story but an example of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence—living one's life over and over again.  No, actually, it's just a ghost story.

Sadly, it's a lame one, too.  I don't understand why the ghost of someone who burned to death in a car collision causes people to freeze to death, and I don't understand why the girl's meeting with that ghost teaches her to appreciate the stalker guy more.  In fact, I don't quite understand what she learns in the first place, but Emily Blunt still makes her plight up until then believable.  What I really don't understand, though, is how Wind Chill, which starts so mysterious and unsettling, turns so unnecessarily and generically confounding.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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