There are some basic fears most everyone has…fear of rejection, fear of death, and for some fear of enclosed spaces. It’s the last two that are the focus of the dramatic thriller, Centigrade. Co-writer Brendan Walsh (Nurse Jackie) makes his feature film directorial debut with this indie loosely inspired by tales of people trapped in the snow and their desperate struggles to survive.
The film stars Vincent Piazza as Matt and Genesis Rodriguez as Naomi, a married couple who wake up in their rented SUV to find themselves trapped due to a massive storm burying them under layers of snow and ice. The couple had been driving in Norway through the artic mountains during a blinding blizzard and pulled over to wait it out. Unfortunately, they fell asleep and the storm buried them alive.
Naomi, who is eight months pregnant, thinks they should break a window and try to walk 50 miles to the nearest town. Matt, however, believes it’s safer to wait for help. He thinks that when Naomi doesn’t show up for her book signing (she’s a novelist out on tour), they are sure to be missed and someone will come looking.
After a short argument (many more will occur over the course of the film), Naomi agrees and Matt begins sorting their food and water supply which should last them for 12 days. As the days and nights slowly pass, Naomi and Matt find themselves constantly arguing and bickering. Naomi is keeping secrets and makes mistake after mistake while Matt continues to refuse to try to escape the SUV which is both their lifeboat from the deadly elements and their prison.
Centigrade strives to be a claustrophobic, dramatic thriller but lacks interesting characters and any real tension. Piazza and Rodriguez give solid performances as the young couple trapped in the deadly situation, but their characters and the history of their relationship are never delved into via flashback or even in dialogue. Instead, the script presents them as simplistic and shallow, with Naomi being a nagging, fatalistic novelist and Matt her meek, put-upon husband trying to do what he can to help them survive. With the couple having argument after argument about simple and insignificant topics instead of conversations about plans for their baby or stories of how they met or their life back home, it’s nearly impossible to connect with the characters.
The film’s pacing is painfully slow and it feels as though we’re spending much more than an hour and a half watching the events unfold. The lighting on the exterior shots of the snow and ice-covered road and mountains is too dark and too white to make anything out. Director Walsh does make a solid effort to keep the film visually interesting, given most of the action happens inside the SUV. Particularly effective are the shots of Matt up close to a window trying to get snow from the outside when their food supply dwindles as well as the use of candles inside to light up the darkness at night.
Centigrade‘s biggest failure is its inability to capture and bring alive the severe effects of claustrophobia, the intensity of cabin fever, and any real sense of dread or terror during what’s supposed to be a life and death situation.
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 87 minutes
Release Date: August 28, 2020