From the Archives: Centigrade captures a harrowing experience in all the worst ways

From the Archives: Centigrade captures a harrowing experience in all the worst ways

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

About ten minutes into Centigrade it became clear that I wasn’t going to enjoy myself. Shame, really, because the premise is pretty terrifying. While en route between stops on a book tour in Norway, a pregnant novelist (Genesis Rodriguez) and her husband (Vincent Piazza) decide to pull over on the side of the road to wait out some heavy freezing rain. They fall asleep and the movie begins in the moments after they wake up. They’re a bit disoriented at first, but it’s clear that snow has accumulated beyond the height of the car. The doors won’t open. The car won’t start. The one cell phone between them isn’t getting signal, and is almost out of power to boot. No matter. The couple decides, after much bickering, that it’s best to stay in one spot. And there we sit with them for the longest 89 minutes of my life.

The film is based on a true story, but try as I might, I can’t find any information about the real events. As such, I don’t feel bad talking about how awful an experience it was to hang out with our protagonists. Not only do they spend the entire film at each other’s throats, they regularly make frustratingly dumb decisions — ya know, like embarking on an international book tour while nine months pregnant. Granted, I can’t speak to how I would behave in such a scary situation, but the film regularly fails to depict our heroes as being out of options despite assuring us that they are indeed out of options. Shots from outside the car show that it’s not buried too deeply, and if they were to smash a window and dig for, oh, I dunno, ten minutes, they’d be out of the car and well on their way to safety.

“But we don’t know what’s outside,” protests Matt (our annoying hero) when Naomi (our annoying heroine) suggests doing exactly that.

I’m not sure what he means, nor is Naomi, but it’s enough to keep them in the car for many, many days. I suppose he’s referring to the unforgiving elements, but he never says as much. And when a snow plow drives by within feet of where they are buried, proving that they are right next to a road on which cars travel, there’s just no excuse for them to sit around for MANY, MANY MORE DAYS. Honestly, I’d rather freeze to death or get eaten by bears or literally any of a million different awful fates than spend more than five minutes with either of these people. Lucky me, I get to spend over an hour with both!

The entirety of the movie is these two people at their absolute worst, being awful to one another. A few small “revelations” about their relationship occur, but nothing that’s even remotely compelling. Instead of feeling like “wow, this tragedy is causing them to open up” it’s more like “oh good, yet another reason for them to be snippy with one another while I watch.” We sit and wait for the movie to end, just like our heroes sit and wait for literally anything to happen. Since we never see their relationship not in a state of trauma, they’re not very easy to root for. In fact, as depicted, it seems like they don’t even like one another. When, at a moment of desperation, they confess their love, all I could do was scoff. These two people do not love each other. Certainly not as much as they love bickering.

Director Brendan Walsh does an admirable job of keeping the single location visually interesting. It’s actually quite impressive how many workable angles he finds within the confines of a small car. If we weren’t in it with two of the least likable, most irritating characters imaginable, a thrilling “stuck in a small space” movie could manifest. Instead, the best parts were any time the camera stepped out of the car to show us the cold mountain. At least there it’s quiet.

Mild spoilers in the next paragraph, so skip it if you care (you don’t).

And then a baby shows up. Yep, that’s right, Naomi gives birth to her child, a process that takes literally under five seconds, after which the movie has an even worse soundscape than it already did. It’s as if the filmmakers thought “what could make anyone who hasn’t left yet leave right now? Oh I know! A BABY THAT NEVER STOPS CRYING.” I get it. Babies cry. But when you’ve got nothing but petty bickering for half a movie followed by the same bickering WITH ADDED BABY SCREAMS for the remainder, you don’t have a movie so much as you have a wickedly efficient headache machine. And don’t even get me started on how they name the baby. It’s a groaner of the highest order. I hope that this part is fictionalized for the movie, because I would hate knowing that someone was named “Olivia” because “Liv” sounds like “live.”

Ok spoilers over.

What Centigrade is attempting is to be a harrowing survival picture in the realm of Buried, 127 Hours, or Frozen (the ski lift one, not the one with Idina Menzel scream-singing), and while it is indeed successful at being a harrowing experience, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Movies like these are supposed to be painful to watch, but also fun because we’re watching a terrible thing happen to somebody who either doesn’t deserve it, or is forced to have a character arc because of it. We want them to survive. That isn’t the case here. Centigrade is painful to watch because the characters are unbearable, the stakes aren’t well constructed, the pacing is dreadful, and no narrative arc of any kind occurs. I’d have killed for Mr. Freeze to show up and drop an ice pun. Something like “there’s snow way out of the car!”

Or maybe he interrupts their bickering to say “I guess the heat is off” or “I can see who wears the snow pants in this relationship! Aaaahahahahahahhaah!!”

Centigrade is now available for digital rental.

Leave a Reply