Based on a true story, “Centigrade” follows a married couple on a book tour for the pregnant wife’s latest novel, and they end up getting trapped in a vehicle from a frozen blizzard. What proceeds are actors Genesis Rodriguez (Big Hero 6, Tusk) and Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire) and their attempt at survival. Based on that premise, there can be a lot that audiences can expect from this type of “survival” story. The question I had going in, is how the film would necessarily thrive on the tension in the film's runtime of a little over 90 minutes. What I am so happy to report is that “Centigrade” is entirely effective at what it sets out to do.
A large portion of its success comes from the investment an audience can have for our lead characters. Both Rodriguez and Walsh have a strong realistic chemistry with one another, which sells the film’s more dramatic elements. It is the sequences where the tensions of their predicament with each other that the film truly thrives. Not only that, but also director Brendan Walsh’s use of the car as a character. The focus here relies on the length of the car in terms of how our characters navigate it. From having characters slide past one another with an inevitable “using the bathroom” scene, it shows how the space is a character. Much like the “quarantine” culture we are living in now, the film thrives on the element of claustrophobia our characters face.
While effective stylistically, there is an element in the production design that really took me out from the overall experience. Where “Centigrade” falls short is in its more melodramatic elements. Some of the best movies about survival (127 Hours, All Is Lost, Cast Away) thrive on the tension of the circumstance. Now, I do want to make something clear in these criticisms. None of what I say is criticizing the true events and what these people dealt with at this time. When our protagonists deal with the more mundane relationship problems, the film severely halts where it shouldn’t. A clearer definition of this would be how the film doesn’t utilize its strongest asset, the circumstance.
“Centigrade” is a film that for the most part delivers on what the premise promises before initial viewing. What holds me back quite immensely from loving the film, is the mellow drama that takes away from the tension. This is unfortunate due to just how tense the film is when it fires on all cylinders. There is a lot of aspiration on the part of Walsh as a filmmaker to make a new-age survival classic. When it thrives, the hooks are able to jam into the audience and make something effectively exciting. It’s just quite frustrating that its more impressive aspects are underhanded by drama that doesn’t land. Much like my review for Russell Crowe’s latest “Unhinged," I recommend seeing this one at a drive-in if possible. “Centigrade” is at its best when the film doesn’t lean into its own cliches.
Watch the trailer here.