The scariest aspect of “Centigrade” is that the catalyst for the events that unfold over the course of the film could happen to anyone: while driving through a snowstorm in Norway, a couple decide that the weather is too bad for them to continue, so they pull over to wait out the storm. When they wake up the next morning, their car won’t start, and is completely buried under layers of snow and ice that they can’t break out of. What follows is a claustrophobic drama set entirely within the confines of their vehicle.
Based on real events, the “Centigrade” is directed by Brendan Walsh and stars Genesis Rodriguez and Vincent Piazza as Naomi and Matthew, the couple who become trapped in their SUV. Naomi is a writer, and they are headed to the next stop on her book tour; she’s also eight months pregnant. Realizing that the temperatures are plunging, they have limited food and water, and they will only be able to survive in the car for so long, tensions rise between Naomi and Matthew as they attempt to work together, bringing long-kept secrets, blame, and guilt to the surface.
“Centigrade” is the most successful in its smaller moments. When Matthew loses his temper over Naomi forgetting to screw the cap back on one of their water bottles, or when they bicker over using the cell phone (this story is set in 2002, so obviously technology is more limited compared to today), they feel like very real arguments that couples would have in a similar situation. Rodriguez and Piazza are a couple in real life, and it is apparent that they were able to channel some of their experience together into their performances.
Where “Centigrade” fails is in the big picture elements of the story. So much of it feels contrived and predictable, from the pregnancy to the personal secrets that eventually come to light, but ultimately don’t have much bearing or emotional impact on the story as a whole, despite the actors’ solid enactment of those scenes. Their characters just aren’t that interesting to watch for more than a few minutes. Even the sweeping shots of the terrain interspersed throughout the film to get the viewer out of the car for a second feel unnecessarily over-dramatic. The film experiments a bit with the dreams and hallucinations that Naomi and Matthew experience the longer they are confined, but it could have livened up the proceedings by pushing that element a little harder, making things a little weirder. Considering that Naomi is a writer who manages to create during this experience, “Centigrade” suffers from a severe lack of imagination.
With “Centigrade,” Walsh attempts to create a realistic look at normal people faced with an extraordinarily dangerous situation, but it’s hard not to criticize the characters’ frequently dumb actions at every turn (even knowing, in the back of our heads, that we’d probably behave similarly in the same circumstances), and become bored with the cyclical nature of the action. Creating a film that is set in such a tight space is no easy feat, and Walsh does expertly navigate the camera around the characters while remaining within the vehicle for most of the movie. But even though this film is based on an impressive true story, this is far from the most compelling claustrophobic thriller ever created either—one that is more likely to provoke eye-rolls than adrenaline rushes.
“Centigrade” will be released in select theaters and on demand on August 28, 2020. Runtime: 98 minutes. Not rated. 2 out of 5 stars.
Media review screener courtesy IFC Films.