CENTIGRADE (2020) is a curious drama based on a true story of an author and her husband who were trapped in their car underneath ice and snow on a frozen road in Norway.
The film is also billed as a thriller, but this is only because the concept of two people trapped in their car underneath ice and snow is a life-threatening experience. The film itself is strictly a drama, with no attempt to sensationalize the events. For a story like this, it’s exceedingly quiet.
Still, I somewhat enjoyed this one, even as the script presented other problems, which get in the way of the film’s realism.
CENTIGRADE opens with author Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza) waking up in their car after pulling over onto the side of the road during a dangerous ice storm. They awake to find their car buried under a wall of snow and ice. The car won’t start, and they have no cell phone service. Naomi wants to break a window and dig their way out, but Matt wants to stay in the car, which he says is safer and will help keep them warm, and that is what they decide to do.
And thus begins their odyssey, stuck in their car, at first for hours, but then… for days… and days. With nothing to do but talk to each other and get on each other’s nerves. Oh, and by the way. Naomi is pregnant and about to have her baby.
And that’s the plot of CENTIGRADE.
The film opens strong. The conflict is present immediately at the outset. The problem with CENTIGRADE is it doesn’t really go anywhere from there. It remains pretty much one note throughout, and the longer it goes on this way, the less effective the story becomes.
For example, I really expected Naomi and Matt to really have a hard time being together in close quarters in a perilous situation, and they do bicker, but it never becomes full blown arguing. I mean, they have their disagreements, but like the rest of the movie, in terms of story arc, nothing much really happens to keep the viewer interested.
The story also has other struggles. Early on when Naomi has to pee, Matt suggests she pee into a towel. It works. But as the days turn into weeks, how are these two going to the bathroom? How many towels do they have? And there are some things that towels are not going to be good for in the bathroom department. The film never addresses this.
They light candles in their car to see, which I thought was odd. The film also doesn’t address how they never run out of oxygen. Nor do they look like two people stuck in a car for weeks. They look too neat. And then there’s the birth scene. One of the easiest births you’ll ever see, and then the baby joins them in their car. What are these folks eating? I mean, they have some food, but enough for weeks? Not sure about that.
I also found it difficult to imagine they’re not wanting to escape. How long does it take before you realize no one is coming to find you? It’s time to get the hell out and take your chances! Not here. They just sit in that damn car.
All this being said, for the most part, I enjoyed CENTIGRADE. I enjoyed the performances by Genesis Rogriguez and Vincent Piazza as Naomi and Matt. They did seem like a married couple, and their conversations were definitely realistic. The problem is, sometimes in a movie you want more than realistic. You want a reason to keep watching. This film doesn’t really give its audience that. I stuck with it because I enjoyed the characters, and they seemed like real people.
But the story didn’t always seem real, as the screenplay by Daley Nixon and director Brendan Walsh didn’t really do a good job with the details.
And while director Brendan Walsh does capture the sense of icy coldness throughout, I thought the feeling of claustrophobia of being stuck in one’s car for so long in a life threatening situation which should have been there, weirdly was not. I didn’t get the sense that these folks feared every day for their lives or were about to flip out at the idea of being trapped in their car. They just sort of continue their quiet talking throughout.
If you’re looking for an intense thriller, CENTIGRADE is not that movie. Instead, it’s a quiet talky drama about a married couple who find themselves trapped in a vehicle under snow and ice. As I said at the outset, it’s a curious story, one that was intriguing enough to hold my interest for its 98 minute running time, but since I was expecting this one to get more intense as it went along, ultimately by film’s end since it didn’t, it was something of a disappointment.
The best parts really are the understated performances by the two actors here, Genesis Rodriguez and Vincent Piazza. They are what kept me watching.
If you know beforehand that CENTIGRADE is a rather quiet drama, you may like this one. Otherwise, you may find yourself giving it the cold shoulder.
Sounds like it would have benefitted from at least a pinch of the supernatural/folklore/urban folklore playbook… ANYTHING to add outside tension to the inside tension…