Cold Hell is a good old-fashioned thriller now available on Shudder.
Ozge (Violetta Schurawlow) is a cab driver living in Vienna. One day, after a long shift, she witnesses the aftermath of a murder in the apartment across from hers. Unfortunately for her, the killer is lingering and sees her.
Naturally, Ozge fears that the killer will come for her, but the police don’t take her seriously. They dismiss her as a Turkish woman lying about her Australian citizenship, possibly as a cover for her being a prostitute (she’s not). But, of course, the killer finds her and tries to take her out. Now she’s on the run. Further complicating things is that Ozge has to protect the daughter of her cousin, who the killer murdered thinking she was Ozge. One detective working on the case agrees, however reluctantly, to help her.
Pretty good setup for a thriller. And the movie is successful, in part, but it’s not without some major flaws.
When you only follow the film in its moment-to-moment action, it’s pretty good. The quality of the dialogue is uneven at times, but the film is well constructed on a micro level. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky knows how to frame a shot and construct a scene, and the actors all give committed believable performances. Violetta Schurawlow and Tobias Moretti are fantastic, always playing off each other with the right mix of frustration to make their unusual relationship convincing. The film also has a good sense of style. It’s a thriller in a sort of noir-lite package — grungy at times, but with a bleak beauty that effectively captures the dialectical nature of film noir.
But, when you take Cold Hell as a whole and the sum of its parts, it starts to break down a little.
While the scripting can, as mentioned, be uneven, general individual scenes are in general well written and engaging. When all of those scenes are strung together, however, they lack clarity and coherency.
Throughout the film, I had to turn off the part of my brain that was buzzing with questions about the plot and characters. I did this not because of the film’s depth or complexity, but because I couldn’t square the characters and their actions with the situations they were put in. And by that, I mean the question, “Why?” kept popping up. Why would Character X do that? Why wouldn’t Character Y mitigate the situation by saying this or that?
I mean, let’s face it: horror films have a long and celebrated history of characters doing boneheaded things. (“Why would she run past the front door and up the stairs when there’s a killer in the house?”) And Cold Hell falls into this unfortunate trope, particularly with the character of Ozge. I can’t get into specifics, but there are many times throughout the film where it seems like she could have gotten out of or reduced the amount of trouble by saying, “Hey, I did this because of that.” Or, “Help guys, this person I’m chasing is a murderer.” Her maintaining a stoic privacy and mistrust fits in a way with the ferocity and nonconforming nature of her character but saying that feels like my doing some mental gymnastics to justify things I just couldn’t buy.
Furthermore, I found the actual plotline to be somewhat underwhelming. Although I was invested in individual scenes, the arc of the story turns predictable and dips its toe in the cliché a little too often. What’s more, the flow of the story’s progression is a little wonky, and as a result, there’s not much of a sense of buildup or anticipation as all of the plot threads are tied together. Which is a shame, because the film’s structure winds up undercutting the suspense of the piece as a whole. As I said, the moment-to-moment is mostly good, but it just doesn’t come together in a way that is entirely satisfactory.
Still, the Shudder-exclusive Cold Hell is fun in spite of its issues. You might not think about the film too much after it’s over, but it’s a decently fun ride while it lasts. Isn’t there an MST3K quote that goes something like: “Don’t fall into the plot holes?” Yeah. Don’t do that, and you’ll have a good time.