CENTIGRADE, directed by Brendan Walsh and co-written by Walsh and Daley Nixon, is a survival story about American couple Matt (Vincent Piazza) and Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) who are visiting Norway to promote writer Naomi’s latest book. On the way to their hotel, they pull over to wait out a blizzard and accidentally fall asleep. When they wake up the next morning, they find themselves trapped as they realize their rental SUV has become entrenched in ice and buried in snow. They have a low cell phone battery, few emergency supplies, little food, and on top of everything, Naomi is eight months pregnant. As the days pass, the temperature plummets, and the possibilities of freezing or starving to death become imminent concerns. In order to survive, Matt and Naomi must work together to overcome the sudden crevasse in their relationship as panic, blame, and secrets threaten to drive them apart.
CENTIGRADE is a cramped, encapsulated film, taking place almost entirely inside a two-row SUV. The film makes excellent use of its confined space as clever framing techniques are used throughout the film. We see the characters move about the car in organic parallels to their emotional states, through panic, mistrust, helplessness, loss of grip on reality, and hopeful determination. The only sources of light in the car are the dim, cold sunlight peeking through the ice and the small flicker of hope provided by their emergency candles. A few well-placed exterior shots not only show us the grim reality of Matt and Naomi’s desolation, but also allow the audience a small reprieve and a quick breath of fresh air. There is a tragic sensation in seeing the gorgeous and snowy Norwegian landscape in the context of Matt and Naomi’s misfortune. What would normally be grandiose view heralding acres of freedom and solitude instead evokes a deep dread when we realize we are in fact witnessing a barren death trap that offers little hope of rescue.
The story feels natural; however, Naomi’s pregnancy comes across as more of a plot device, especially considering it is ill-advised to travel (let alone internationally) during the third trimester. It raises the stakes and creates even more discomfort for Naomi, but a little disbelief might need to be suspended. Because CENTIGRADE only features two characters, a lot is asked of actors Genesis Rodriguez and Vincent Piazza. They are both able to easily carry the weight of the film as they shift through a range of relatable and realistic emotions. I could easily see myself in Naomi, whose first instinct is to jump to panic, while I could see my own husband reacting in a similar way to Matt, by trying his best to stay calm and logical.
CENTIGRADE is a slow, deliberate ice burn that arrives at the perfect time. It is difficult to watch this film and not feel that crushing isolation as we sit in our own metaphorical trapped car in the form of quarantine, wondering whether we should stay put and wait for some kind of miracle to come along or try to venture out on our own and face possible dire consequences.
CENTIGRADE opens August 28th on VOD, Digital Platforms and Drive-In Theaters.
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