Saturday, January 24, 2009
COLD PREY (2006) d. Roar Uthaug
Reviewed by Rick Trottier
After the flood of “heroic quest” novels and series that were spawned by the success of THE LORD OF THE RINGS in the 1960s, it soon became apparent that writing anything that was remotely original in that genre was going to be difficult if not impossible. Fantasy has since worked hard to reinvent itself and has spun off many subgenres, breathing new life into what could have become a very musty field. New generations of readers have discovered recent additions to the “heroic quest” canon that must seem fresh in their young eyes, but are nothing more than pale imitations of the forerunners of long ago. If slasher films have not already reached that same impasse of a lack of innovation, they are fast approaching it. While it is a thorny conundrum to authoritatively determine when the slasher film category first began, it is likely that it was sometime in the early 1960s. By the 1970s this subgenre of horror had become almost iconic and certainly very successful at the box office. Sadly, slasher films of the last twenty years increasingly suffer from a terrible case of “the derivatives” and they mine older ideas to the point of no longer emulating good concepts but are just simple mimicry and apishness. The Norwegian slasher flick COLD PREY (aka FRITT VILT) does a lot right and has strengths that could only be exhibited by a European motion picture, but its potential success is limited by its imitative nature which makes it a little stale to someone who has seen it all before.
COLD PREY is the story of five young friends, off on a snowboarding expedition to Jotunheimen where a challenging slope awaits their eager adrenaline systems. After a laborious hike to the fresh powder, Ingunn, Mikal, Eirik, Jannicke and Morten hit the trails but an accident brings their fun to a screeching halt. Without any way of getting their injured friend to safety or contacting the outside world, the hapless ski enthusiasts find an abandoned lodge called Ondskapens Hotel and shelter from the elements there. It isn’t long before they find that cold and discomfort are not their most serious problems and that the hotel isn’t really deserted.
COLD PREY is a true paradox for it has an almost equal number of impressive characteristics as its does failings. Right from the beginning, there are tired story elements that have been tread and retread too often over the years like “innocent young people off on a lark and looking for a thrill unwittingly stumble into danger”. There is also the ubiquitous “no chance to call for help due to a lack of cell phone reception”. Not helping matters is the equally exhausted vein of character stereotypes all grouped together like the playful, sex-happy couple, the loving and yet tormented sensible couple and the quirky, somewhat nerdy odd man out. At least these characters were not miserably unpleasant jerks that made my mental checkout of the cinematic motel a certainty. Possibly the Scandinavian film makers who crafted this screenplay have never seen many or any of the myriad slasher films that have paraded past my eyes over the years or even more likely they assume that young viewers haven’t seen them either and will find these plot devices fresh. Whatever the motivation for adding them, they are like seeing a “Halfling” in a fantasy story, it’s been done before. When coupled with some trite and unimportant dialogue that didn’t develop the characters terribly well and left me caring for them a great deal less than I should have, there were story elements of COLD PREY that needed a lot more consideration and careful crafting.
However, the narrative is superbly paced and builds a very patient head of steam over the nearly 100 minute run time of the movie. Except for the gently applied layer of suspense in the introduction and the accident in the early stage of the rising action, there is very little that is menacing for some time. Bit by bit though that begins to change and before long we are treated to some legitimately shocking and intense scenes of murder and violence. One of the many reasons why European horror films continue to be superior to their American cousins is their reliance on teasing and tormenting the mind of the viewer while all the while subtly intensifying the pace of the conflict. In addition, we don’t always see the killer in clear light or well-framed shots so that a sense of mystery and menace is maintained. We do see the “prey” in all their gut-wrenching fear either forced to run for their lives or meet their end in a brutal but not overly gratuitous manner. Typical of most modern European fare, there is a degree of sophistication that is evident in the presentation of violence or adult themes. American films slap on schlocky gore like color applied with a Wagner Power Painter. European horror still tends to use carefully considered brush strokes that develop palpable mood and a dense aura of apprehension. Despite the weaknesses in COLD PREY, I somehow found myself drawn into the drama and I attribute that to the construction and execution of a pace that works well.
From a visual standpoint, COLD PREY continues to be a mixed bag. The exterior scenes are shot and lit very effectively. During the snowboarding excursion, we are treated to some spectacular vistas (augmented by CGI it is true) that were quite lovely and impressive. During the snowstorm and nighttime hours at the lodge, there was a look and feel to many shots that felt distinctly reminiscent of THE SHINING, but did not evoke a sense of mimicry. The interiors were also striking at times. The common room of the lodge was old, eclectic and had a homey charm strangely blended with its desolate eeriness. The stark and lifeless hallways were some of the most effective sets for establishing atmospheric impact and called to mind moments from COMA where corridors have never looked more menacing. The imagery of COLD PREY was created using fairly stable camera work and editing, not overly creative and impressive, but competent none-the-less and I could see what was going on due to their competence and relatively thoughtful approach. That is more than I can say for a lot of horror films today. True to form however, the makers of COLD PREY could not find their own path to brave and had to copy a popular trend that has been terribly overused. Most of the interior sets were lit and/or processed so that the color was so desaturated as to be monochromatic bordering on black & white with some sepia thrown in for good measure. This hue design deepened steadily as the grimness of the story increased. While this was once a very intriguing and creative concept, nearly everyone is either trying or has tried to use it over the last ten years and in growing numbers. I am sure that part of the idea behind such a color scheme was not only to aid the sense of emergent doom and disaster, but to strengthen the bleak and inhospitable feel of the surroundings, and it does, but at the cost of being unoriginal.
The extras menu of COLD PREY is one of the largest and most diverse treasure troves I have seen in some time and I was simply astounded by the generosity and comprehensive nature of the bonus features offered. We begin with a 2 ½ minute “Alternate Ending” depicted in storyboard form which is pretty novel. Even more compelling is the 21 minute “Behind Cold Prey” featurette which is a blend of “behind the scenes” footage, interviews and anecdotes augmented by clips. These kinds of features normally engender a deeper respect in me for the movie and this was no exception. Following that was a 23 minute “Visual FX of Cold Prey” presented in four sections dealing with the digital, color, sound and poster effects created for the film. People with an interest and/or an affinity for the technical side of the industry with find this especially compelling. There is another visual effects featurette of 10 minutes called “Car Scenes” that is pretty appealing. An 8 ½ minute series of “Bloopers” follows that. Then there are two short films; a 2 ½ minute feature-connected piece called “Mountain Rose Runs Amok” and a 3 minute early creation by the director called “An Evening in the Green”. Both have their attention-getting qualities. A 4 minute film-inspired music video by The Bloodlights called “One Eye Open” is next, and this mountain of goodies is capped off by the teaser trailer, the theatrical trailer and two TV spots. It isn’t often that you find such a mammoth load of extras on a single disc like COLD PREY.
It might sound like I disliked COLD PREY and I want to unequivocally state that was not the case. I found myself intrigued by many of the traits of this motion picture and would recommend it to viewers who want to see a well-paced slasher film and who may not be as jaded and soaked in slasher flick blood as I am. COLD PREY has a lot of beneficial qualities that the majority of mainstream American films are sorely lacking today. It may not be as contemplative or as visceral as its Scandinavian cousin LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, but it moves a bit faster and is more conventional, which means it may appeal to a wider audience. If you are a younger person without the poison of cynicism flowing through your blood vessels as I have, you will likely be impressed with this addition to the venerable canon of slasher films. Don’t mind my complaints; I was listening to my joints creaking.