There are many things for which Gregory Jacobs' claustrophobic ghost story, scripted by Steven Katz (2000's SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE) and Joe Gangemi, should be commended: It's not a craven remake of a seminal 1970s horror film, a soft-ball sort-of shocker emasculated by a PG-13 rating or a soulless exercise in torture porn. So it's a shame not to be able to endorse its pared-down chills without reservation. But for all the film's admirable restraint, it's also poorly paced and, frankly, more than a little dull.
Two every-students, spoiled, snippy cool girl (UK actress Emily Blunt, of MY SUMMER OF LOVE and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, playing American) and a quiet, ever-so-slightly creepy, nerd boy (Ashton Holmes, of TV's Boston Legal), undertake a ride-share road trip from their college to Delaware at the start of the Christmas season, just as a winter storm advisory is issued for the entire Eastern seabord. At first it looks as though they're headed for psycho stalker-thrills country as the girl becomes increasingly convinced that her traveling companion is a budding Hannibal Lector in Eastern-religion major's clothing: He knows way too much about her and way too little about their putative home state for comfort. And what's with that weirdo small talk about the less-than-jovial Dutch version of Santa Claus and his scary sidekick, Black Pete? Creepazoid alert!
But the story does a 180 when the mismatched pair take an unscheduled detour onto scenic Route 606 and are run off the road by a car that vanishes into the silent snow without leaving so much as a set of tire tracks. Stranded, in cell-service limbo and leaking gasoline, the accidental couple gradually realize they're trapped in some land-locked Bermuda Triangle where generations of incautious motorists have been victimized by a corrupt highway patrolman (Martin Donovan), a bad guy when he was alive and a positive nightmare after his fiery 1953 death.
Whatever chance this relatively old-fashioned, restrained thriller produced by Steven Soderburgh and George Clooney (for whom CRIMINAL director Jacobs did assistant director duty on films ranging from SOLARIS to THE UNDERNEATH), might have had of finding an audience sympathetic to its low-key chills were torpedoed by its unceremonious hit-and-run release. WIND CHILL was dumped into a handful of theaters without press screenings or promotion one week before the kickoff of the summer 20007 summer-movie season. And that's too bad, because despite its failings, WIND CHILL represents a road rarely taken by 21st-century American horror films: Original (in the non-remake sense of the term), subtle and restrained. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh