Movie Review: COLD HELL (2017)

“So, if there is no God, there’s no need for humans to fear death”.

DIE HÖLLE (COLD HELL) is a new thriller film from Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters, The Inheritors) and writer Martin Ambrosch (“Tatort”). It stars Violetta Schurawlow (Cannibal Diner), Tobias Moretti (The Dark Valley), Robert Palfrader (“Wir sind Kaiser”), and Sammy Sheik (American Sniper).

Extremely well received at several national and international film festivals, COLD HELL follows the story of a young Turkish woman named Özge, living in Vienna. She lives a rough life, practicing Thai boxing and driving a taxi, living on probation for obstruction and possession charges. One evening, she arrives home after work and catches the aftermath of a murder out of her apartment window. She and the killer see one another, and this alone turns Özge’s life upside down. What follows is a torrent of intrigue, zealotry and blood.

The finer points –
The plot is expertly crafted, and paced well. At times, it feels a little slow, but nearly every scene proceeding well makes up for this fact. There is just enough development of character to flesh out every individual on screen, and nothing over explained. Development honestly plays out like a police proceeding, which works rather well for a film of its type.

Nextly, the performance is superb. Not a single misfire on casting – every actor involved is incredible. Of all, however, the central actor, Violetta Schurawlow, is absolutely phenomenal. Her steely expression, strength of silence, simple presence – she absolutely carries the film. Closely after her, though, is Tobias Moretti, Schuralow’s co-star. The chemistry and patter between them is wonderful, his natural nature and focus on every scene is quite engaging.

My favorite tenant of the film, however, is the cinematography. Fantastic use of color, edges and shadow. The whole film is reminiscent of the great Giallo films of recent past – shadow to hide the killer’s face, high contrast color to indicate violence, and my personal favorite, a muted, brooding dreariness throughout, even in daylight. Some modern horror and thriller films err on the side of darkness, and, in my opinion, this occasionally leads to confusion in action and storytelling.
This film? Not in the least.

I considered not mentioning this, and simply leaving it for the viewer to witness, but I need to say it – the two individual scenes where our lead, Özge, and the killer fight, are absolutely incredible! Some of the most intense action sequences I’ve seen as of recent, and my hats off to the cast and crew for pulling them off. The direction, the camera work, the choreography, all seamless. I literally found myself shouting “Yes!” outloud, and slapping the table in front of me during them. They make the entire experience worth it!

There are, like any movie, some issues I have. For one (at the risk of sounding prude), a seemingly unnecessary sex scene lead-up. No actual, under the covers, awkward acting, just a simple lead-up. But, the strength of the film relies on our heroine and her independence, and to have her, seemingly out of nowhere, find attraction to her counterpart just seemed a little useless. Another note, though this may just be me being a Giallo fanatic: I didn’t want to see the killer’s face until much later. I always prefer not knowing who this person is, if at all. I just tend to prefer nameless, sometimes faceless entities as antagonists, and while our killer did remain anonymous for the most part, I would just have rathered not actually seeing them until much later in the film. I had a few other issues, but they were minor, particularly regarding one or two visual and music / sound design choices, but these were minor in comparison to the rest of the film.

Violence, religious zealotry, a badass leading lady, incredible acting and cinematography – highly recommended viewing! The issues the film faces are minor when compared to its whole, and are easily disregarded. I look forward to further work and watching the catalogue from Stefan Ruzowitzky, it’s director, as well as the leading woman and man, Violetta Schurawlow and Tobias Moretti respectively, as I am unfamiliar with their work prior to this movie.
Seek this one out – see you in COLD HELL!

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