Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Cold Prey" - More Scandinavian Terror

Netflix has given me the chance to indulge in foreign films of all sorts. While packing my queue with classic arthouse flicks by Bertolucci and Fellini, I decided to follow the solid buzz around this Norwegian movie. Watching too much of anything can become a problem, and so we come to "Cold Prey" (2006)...

An opening montage shows us a scared child with an odd birthmark on his face. He's running through snow, terrified. Suddenly, something jumps out at him. Newspapers show a photo of the child and his parents, exclaiming the tragedy of a missing kid. After the credits, we're introduced to one of the most standard scenes in horror: a group of young people in a car. They're promiscuous, they're adventurous, and most of them are photogenic. They're on a skiing holiday, and all the talk is about sex. There also a ton tension between the couple in the front.

Soon, our young people have decided to hit some slopes before they reach the resort. Someone injures their leg (horror films are built on leg injuries, aren't they?), and our crew decide to seek shelter at a nearby lodge. The place is abandoned (of course!) but no signs are posted, and they'll be safe for the night. Being marginally smart, they explore most of the resort. They find food, liquor, a burned room, and a glass case missing its axe. And, naturally, they ignore those last two points; they set themselves up with drinks and get on about their business without a care in the world. Tragedy ensues.

The young cast is capable enough, and they're decently characterized. The girl who spends most of her time making out with her date has cold feet; the two are close but don't know each other at all. The kid with the leg problem seems to have some real secrets about his love life - or a well-played crush on one-half of the leading couple. The folks riding up front are having those big "take it to the next level" problems that usually bore friends to death.

The main problems with "Cold Prey" are common in horror today. First, it can't sustain enough interest in the villain. When we get a proper glimpse, the evil figure is some kind of nightmarish Scandinavian super-trapper. All you see is a massive anorak, an ice axe, and some menacing movement. Traps and tricks abound. Yet there's nothing interesting in this mysterious figure, or its murderous rampage.

The first kill is appropriately visceral and shocking; but everything after that is somewhat ordinary, and hearkens too strongly to "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (or "I Know What You...," if you're not feeling charitable). As the terror progresses, we don't become increasingly scared of the killer; hell, the stakes never get raised for the villain, either. Finally, neither the revelation to the audience (read: backstory) nor the resolution of the film (read: when the bad guy dies or wins) really grab you from an emotional perspective.

The other problem, unfortunately, is that these well-developed characters don't evoke much emotion. Perhaps it's part of Scandinavian culture, but these folks are a bit too stolid. In the end, no matter how much they talk about the problems in their lives - no matter what secrets they may hide - everyone comes off like a jerk or a bit of a tool. Maybe they really are stoic and their brief display of flaws is distracting, but there's no one to cheer for... In fact, there's only one moment where you really root for someone to die.

"Cold Prey" is reasonably well-made. The problem is that it only sporadically engages the audience. Horror is built on the emotions of the viewer - tension, fear, contempt, admiration. If a horror film can't make you "feel," then it's almost impossible to create an effective picture. To that end, this film fails - even if it handles itself decently in the meantime.

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