Imagine you are trapped in a blizzard. You might be okay because you have food, books, and blankets. Now imagine you’re stuck in an SUV. You have little food, less water, and you’re 8 months pregnant. That is the premise of Brendon Walsh’s thriller Centigrade, a tortuous, though well-executed exercise in existential horror.
Matt (Vincent Piazza) and Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) wake up in their vehicle, having pulled over to wait out an ice storm. They are traveling through Norway to promote Naomi’s book, but discover that they are entirely covered in snow and ice. Unable to escape or call for help, the two struggle to survive in a frozen, unmoving tomb.
Centigrade is a brutal 85 minutes of watching two people lose hope. Instead of the jump scares and cheap theatrics of other thrillers, Centigrade focuses on the horror of being forced to face your mortality. Similar in premise to Open Water in that the protagonists are trapped and have no options, but with slightly higher stakes. That being Naomi’s pregnancy.
Brendon Walsh somehow manages to shoot this claustrophobic nightmare inside the tiny set of a mid-size sports utility vehicle. Despite the cramped conditions, the camera never feels static. It would have been so easy just to set up a single shot and let the drama play out. But, instead, he continually switches angles. He keeps the camera moving from one shot to the next, which somehow increases the sense of claustrophobia.
“Unable to escape or call for help, the two struggle to survive in a frozen, unmoving tomb.”
How many times have you watched a thriller and found yourself annoyed by the choices of the characters? Put your hands up. (1,2,20,498) So about half of you. Well, in Centigrade, there are literally no choices the characters can make. They are not only at the mercy of the elements, but there is no place to escape each other, and as Sartre said in No Exit, “Hell is other people.” So trapped with someone in a blizzard, all our protagonists can do is go through a continuous cycle of recrimination, anger, blame, and forgiveness.
And that is what makes Centigrade not only difficult but exhausting to watch. You find yourself feeling exactly what the characters feel in this hopeless situation: the desperation, the anger, the despair, the utter sense of powerlessness. The movie puts you through an emotional ringer with no guarantee that anyone will survive. Centigrade is one of those movies that succeeds as art, but not as entertainment. By the time the film concluded, I had found myself drained, numb, and unable to fully fathom what I had just watched.
But cinema isn’t just a director’s medium. Our stars Genesis Rodrigez and Vincent Piazza give excruciatingly realistic performances. In spite of, or maybe because of, a lack of chemistry, their tension and sniping feel all too real. They capture how an extreme situation, like being stuck in a blizzard, for instance, can magnify the cracks in a fragile relationship.
Centigrade was a difficult movie to watch, and while technically well made, it is not very enjoyable.
"…while technically well made, it is not very enjoyable."