The simplest of scenarios — a married couple wake up, trapped in a car covered in snow in the middle of nowhere, Norway.
The givens? No, the car won’t start. No, there’s no cell service. One person will take the “I think we should stay right here” and “I need you to trust me,” tack. Guess which one?
“Centigrade” is a survival thriller at its most basic, a minimalist tale that gets as much suspense and pathos as that limited and limiting plot allows. It’s a well-acted, well-crafted and utterly claustrophobic tale “inspired by a true story.”
Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez of “Delirium”) and Matt (Vincent Piazza of “Boardwalk Empire”) wake up, having pulled over in a blizzard on their way to a remote hotel that’s part of her book tour.
The windows are iced up. She can’t get the door open, and his words of comfort aren’t comforting at all.
“I just need a few minutes, and I will get us out of here,” he says. How many of us would have a clue about what to do?
We aren’t hit over the head with possible solutions, but we can see the rental car is a hatchback and a sun roof. It won’t start. Nobody tries the horn.
There’s a “survival kit” on board. Nothing of much use there.
She gets testy, and then has to pee. Nobody thinks to try warm urine on a frozen door lock. Hey, worth a shot.
Director and cowriter Brendan Walsh, a “Nurse Jackie” veteran making his feature film directing debut, trots out familiar story beats, hewing to formula. The passing snowplow that would never see them, the few seconds on a cell that are wasted in gulping fear and tears, the recriminations, the “People have secrets” argument.
And of course there’s “How she doing?”
“Keeps on kicking.” SOMEbody is pregnant, on top of “the sh–storm we’re in.”
Rodriguez manages to get across the idea of somebody who has let her needs come first. When scribbling a story, or a letter to whoever finds their corpses, is a priority, you know you’re dealing with a writer. Piazza plays the “Look where YOUR ‘planning’ has put us” card, the martyred and out-of-his-depth spouse, well.
The fictionalized “true story” parameters are another way the film is an exercise in making a movie within a straightjacket. As awful as this predicament is, “Centigrade” never comes close to becoming a horror movie.
But if you like claustrophobic stories of survival, putting yourself in the winter shoes of our antagonists, it’s not bad.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity
Cast: Genesis Rodriguez, Vincent Piazza
Credits: Directed by Brendan Walsh, script by Daley Nixon, Brendan Walsh. An IFC Midnight release.
Running time: 1:29