At first glance, this seems like a cautionary tale for viewers in Myanmar, Liberia and especially the United States: “Use metric units and see your lives go down the drain! Or all iced up!” Can Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza) survive in a world that finds no familiarity in the word “Fahrenheit”?
Just kidding — the couple’s situation is decidedly much less comical, not to mention, reportedly based on true events. It’s 2002, and both are in Norway to promote Naomi’s book, until a night of frozen rain compels them to rest their vehicle on the side of the road and spend the night. Centigrade begins with the worst-possible outcome of that decision where they are completely walled in by snow and facing dwindling supplies, flaring tempers, the potential arrival of a baby (Naomi is expecting) and, ultimately, a frozen demise.
Parallels will definitely be drawn between Brendan Walsh’s feature film with two other claustrophobic titles, both from 2010 — Buried, or where Deadpool must make videos to get out of a wooden coffin, and Frozen, or where “let it go” is a no-no for three youngsters stuck on a ski lift. If you’re a 1:1 person, go with the film from Adam Green, as it is more similar in climate. This doesn’t mean Centigrade is without distinctive elements, however. Despite the restrictive nature of the main setting — bonnet, boot and the space in-between of an older-model Land Rover Discovery — you will see that the camera placements that Walsh and cinematographer Seamus Tierney have chosen rarely repeat themselves. At one point we get to see a top-down shot, a choice that earns style points and lines up nicely with the narrative beat right there and then.
There also seems to be a refreshing aversion to brewing tension in ways that other films like Centigrade might go for; the confines still affect Naomi and Matt, of course, but what unbuckles them is each other. Per the script from Daley Nixon and Walsh himself, the colder the temperature, the more heated the couple’s talks become. From survival ideas to careers and from his short temper to her fragile health. To represent the drift in their relationship to one another, there is a neat moment showing the back of Matt’s head conjoining with Naomi’s — when in reality they are facing each other and just inches apart (for that’s all the counseling room the vehicle can accommodate!).
Having said all that, one might think that Nixon and Walsh have given Naomi and Matt enough clay to make them into captivating figures. Or enough driving momentum for the film, as space takes a supporting role here. Our actors, especially Rodriguez, and our composers, Trey Toy and Matthew Wang, actually do the major lifting here, because the character work on the page is either weak or barely there at all. We are primed to see what will become of Naomi and Matt’s relationship throughout their navigating of an extraordinary situation, but it’s hard to see the decay or growth when reference points — say, the beginnings of their love — are fleetingly delivered or lacking in gravitas.
To again bring up Adam Green’s Frozen, its character moments are engineered to draw attention and is oftentimes too heavy-handed for its own sake, but “mission accomplished” remains the verdict as you’ve been made aware of who Parker, Dan and Joe are. Crucially, how they are individually and with each other and the script includes elements that vivify them. Whereas, Centigrade gives merit to the observation “thick be the snow that entombs our thin characters.”
Yes, Norwegian snow can get really thick! Walsh proves it with occasional exterior shots that never reveal the location of the couple’s vehicle amid the mountains and the near-bleached landscape. So when you get to see a part of the Land Rover’s roof, you want to stand up and shout. The more we come back to this, however, the more Centigrade identifies itself as a compressed affair with occasional sparks directed to the surface, when what it needs most is substance. How capable is a thermometer when there is a shortage of the mercury used to denote the °C — oops, °F — of your surroundings?
Directed by: Brendan Walsh
Written by: Daley Nixon, Brendan Walsh
Cast: Genesis Rodriguez, Vincent Piazza
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