Centigrade is a claustrophobic thriller inspired by true events that spends the majority of its runtime in one setting. Husband and pregnant wife Matt (Vincent Piazza) and Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) make a simple yet ill-fated decision to pull over on the side of the road to sleep during a blizzard in Norway on their way to a book signing for Naomi. When the pair wake up in the morning, they find themselves trapped in their car under the snow. What follows is a harrowing, tense 90 minutes that pits the couple against a bleak, unforgiving natural world as their own resentments and secrets threaten to turn them against each other.
Director Brendan Walsh drops the audience immediately into the action. After a brief few words flash across the screen to set the scene, Centigrade starts immediately with Naomi waking up in the car realizing that she and Matt are trapped under the snow. After waking Matt up, panic ensues as the couple realizes that their car has become what could easily be their mausoleum. The film’s score really highlights the bleak mood and atmosphere of Centigrade, highlighting the growing mistrust and constant underlying unease that fills every frame of the entire film.
Matt and Naomi take on familiar relationship roles as they both try to mentally grasp the fact that their survival is far from a guarantee. It doesn’t take long for little cracks to start to form in their familial bond as the claustrophobia and fear begin to set in and take hold as strong as the raging cold outside. The things that we hide from the ones that we love can have dire consequences, and the roles that we play can come crumbling down quickly when the comfortable world around us deteriorates into a primitive game of survival. Who we are as people can quickly be deconstructed into something more base and animalistic the more desperate a situation becomes. Matt and Naomi are no exceptions to this occurrence.
Centigrade manages to evoke a sense of unease and dread thanks in large part to the camera’s use of contrast. Each section of Matt and Naomi’s journey inside their isolated sealed-off world is interspersed by shots of the snow-covered Norwegian mountains that surround their buried car. Composer Graeme Wearmouth (Freaks) uses low ominous tones and plinky haunted house sounding one-note keys to create an eerie, foreboding score that slowly builds throughout. It is easily one of the strongest and most memorable elements of Centigrade.
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that the basic premise of the movie may not be enough for an entire feature film, but the performances of Vincent Piazza and Genesis Rodriguez as Matt and Naomi are worth the price of admission alone. They both take the material and elevate it by really finding the tiny nuances that make them seem like a real couple dealing with real-life issues that are both infinitely bigger and wholly smaller than being buried in the snow facing impending death together. This does more than allowing the audience to identify and root with the film’s protagonists, it commands them to do so.
A lot of Centigrade‘s worst outcomes also rely on the actions of either both Matt and Naomi acting independently instead of as a healthy familial unit. If Matt would have kept driving another hour instead of pulling over because of adverse conditions, they would have made it to their hotel safe and sound, ready for Naomi’s book signing the next day. If Naomi wouldn’t have panicked and started crying, she would have been able to clearly tell her father where they were stuck when her cell phone is able to make one last call before abruptly losing battery power. It’s when the pair learn to truly work together that they manage to survive the elements and keep from going insane.
The biggest tension in the film comes from Naomi’s pregnancy. It both serves as a catalyst to drive Matt and Naomi apart and also bring them closer together in a way it probably never would have under normal circumstances. Centigrade is bringing attention to the dynamics of the family unit under the most stressful of circumstances, and how those dynamics can literally mean life or death. Early on in the film, secrets spill over about the couple’s pregnancy that only cause a widening rift at a time when everyone needs to be working their hardest to survive together. Later, the act of Naomi going through labor with Matt assisting, both still trapped in the snow, makes them a more powerful and primal pair.
Centrigrade offers a harrowing portrait inspired by true events that seem almost too impossible to be real. It may never quite reach the heights to make it truly great, but it’s an interesting film that gives a fresh claustrophobic perspective on the survivalist thriller. There are no bells, whistles, or gimmicks attached to the movie because there’s simply no need for them. A pregnant American author and her husband go to Norway for a small book signing. They pull off the side of the road in the night and wake up in the morning trapped in their car under the snow. All that’s left to do is figure out a way to survive nature and not lose each other in the process.
Brendan Walsh’s film may seem almost slightly too endearing and not harrowing enough at first glance. There’s no over-the-top mental breakdowns, there’s no The Shining inspired madness, and no murders most foul. Centigrade is more concerned with the greater terror of the natural world and how it can amplify the fears and darkness that lie within ourselves, and whether or not we can survive the cold.