August 30, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Brendan Walsh
Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway, the dramatic film “Centigrade” features a two-person cast (one Latina woman and one white man), portraying a middle-class, American married couple.
Culture Clash: The husband and the wife (who’s pregnant) are buried underneath snow in their SUV, which got trapped during a snowstorm, and they both disagree on how to get rescued.
Culture Audience: “Centigrade” will appeal mostly to people who have the patience to sit through a feature-length movie that’s not very well-written and drags out the story in some implausible ways.
Do you want to watch an 87-minute movie about two people trapped in their car during a snowstorm—and that’s all you see for almost the entire film? The answer to that question indicates how much you’re willing to tolerate watching “Centigrade,” a movie that is supposed to be a thriller but ends up being a disappointing snoozefest. The filmmakers of “Centigrade” have taken this “trapped in a car” concept, which should have been a short film, and stretched it out to a very boring slog where not a whole lot happens except some repetitive arguing between the couple who are trapped in the car.
Normally, a movie that’s entirely about people trapped in a small, enclosed space would be an ideal way to go deep into insightful character revelations or some fascinating dialogue. When people are trapped in a small space together, all they have are each other and their thoughts. A movie with these circumstances has to rely more heavily on character development than other movies that take place in various settings.
Unfortunately, director Brendan Walsh (who co-wrote the screenplay with Daley Nixon) makes this story so generic and dull, that it’s mind-boggling how anyone thought that this screenplay was good enough to be a feature-length film. At the end of “Centigrade” viewers will learn almost nothing insightful about the American married couple at the center of the story.
What is shown at the beginning of the movie (which takes place in 2002, before smartphones existed) is that the wife is named Naomi (played by Genesis Rodriguez), her husband is named Matt (played by Vincent Piazza), and she’s pregnant and in her pregnancy’s last trimester. They are the only characters who speak on camera for the entire movie. Despite Naomi being so close to giving birth, she and Matt foolishly decided to drive their SUV in a snowstorm in Norway, on the way to their hotel. Naomi and Matt are in Norway because she’s an author who is scheduled to do publicity appearances for her new novel.
Seriously, what woman who’s seven to nine months pregnant would willingly put herself in the potentially dangerous situation of traveling on a road for several miles during a big snowstorm? Naomi does. And her husband Matt (who’s the driver) is just as reckless to be part of this decision too.
The beginning of their car trip is not shown in the movie, but apparently, the snow got bad enough that Matt decided to pull over to the side of the deserted road. They’ve parked about 50 miles east of the hotel where they are supposed to be staying. It’s not shown in the movie how bad the snowstorm got for Matt to stop driving.
But at some point, he decided to pull over to the side of the road so he and Naomi could get some rest and wait for visibility on the road to get better. There are no flashbacks in this story, but viewers find out that this was the chain of events, because Matt and Naomi argue later about his decision that they should sleep on the side of a deserted road during a snowstorm.
The movie begins with Naomi and Matt waking up in the car and finding out that the car is completed buried in the snow, and they can’t get out. And for a long time, they can’t open the windows either, because all the windows are frozen shut. It must have been a very long nap for all that snow to accumulate so heavily that their SUV to be completely hidden under a mound of snow. Keep in mind, they weren’t in an avalanche.
And wouldn’t you know, of course they can’t get reception on their phones, except for a brief moment when something happens that doesn’t improve their chances of being rescued anyway. And, of course, being trapped for what turns out to be several days means that their phone batteries will eventually die. That’s not implausible.
What really makes this movie hard to take is that Matt insists on waiting in the car until help arrives, even though it’s obvious that the car is buried underneath so much snow that they’re trapped. Therefore, it’s very likely that their car won’t be able to be seen at all underneath the snow. And exterior shots in the movie show that’s exactly the case.
Naomi wants to break a window and try to escape, but Matt (in a very condescending way) tells her to calm down because someone will eventually pass on the road and rescue them. They argue about it, and this disagreement about how to solve their problem takes up a good deal of the first third of the movie. When Naomi asks why Matt doesn’t want to break a window and try to dig their way out of the snow, his reply is: “Because we don’t know what’s out there. At least we can stay warm in the car.”
Although some viewers might be infuriated that Naomi eventually goes along with Matt’s choice, there is somewhat of a plausible explanation for it: She’s pregnant and probably doesn’t want to do anything that could physically harm the baby. Had she not been pregnant, who knows if she would’ve disregarded what Matt wanted and tried to break a window and crawl out herself?
At any rate, Matt and Naomi decide to stay in the car, where they only have two bottles of water to drink. Naomi estimates that the food they have in the car can last maybe 12 days. Matt and Naomi also happen to have a candle and match in the car, so they light the candle to keep themselves warm. Naomi’s pregnancy isn’t mentioned very often in the movie, except during certain key moments when the pregnancy is used as a reason for a plot development. And there’s very little plot development overall in this sluggishly paced film.
As anyone with basic survival skills knows, water is much more important than food, so Matt is way too calm about their dire situation to make this a credible story. They might have enough food for 12 days, but not enough water. And since Matt doesn’t want to break any of the car windows, they can’t get to the snow as a source of water. “Once it’s broken, it’s broken!,” Matt lectures Naomi when she keeps going back to the idea of breaking a window to escape.
At some point, the issue of bodily functions has to be addressed in this story, but even that is handled in an unrealistic way. Naomi is grossed-out by the idea of urinating in the one towel that’s in the car (it’s Matt’s suggestion), but the movie doesn’t even acknowledge that defecation has to happen too. And when viewers find out by the end of the movie how many days the people were trapped in the car, the movie takes on a whole new level of stupidity by ignoring that an accumulation of defecation (which would happen in real life) would be a very real and dangerous health hazard, especially for a pregnant woman. It’s unpleasant to mention, but necessary for this movie’s credibility.
Even just a few days into the ordeal, there’s no sign that this very real bodily function has taken place in the car. That doesn’t mean that the movie had to show all the details, but there isn’t even any dialogue about Matt and Naomi being nauseated by the smell of their own defecation. It’s one of the many plot inconsistences in “Centigrade,” which went out of its way to show Naomi’s disgust over urinating into a towel, and yet overlooked the far unhealthier situation of being trapped in a car that is also being used as a place to defecate, with no way to open the doors and windows.
Since the movie doesn’t want to realistically acknowledge that Matt and Naomi’s car has essentially become their unflushable toilet too, are there any realistic scenes where they try to prevent themselves from getting hypothermia? No. Not surprisingly, the car heater doesn’t seem to be working.
And what about that lit candle in that tightly enclosed space? The movie never acknowledges how that lit candle can negatively affect oxygen levels. There are so many things that “Centigrade” lacks in realism that viewers will be rolling their eyes while watching this film, if they haven’t fallen asleep before it ends.
So with a lack of medical and scientific realism in this “trapped in a car” movie, that just leaves the dialogue to possibly save this movie. But “Centigrade” falls very short in that area too. There’s a lot of unnecessary filler dialogue that goes nowhere in “Centigrade.”
During their ordeal, Naomi rambles on about some stories she’s thinking about writing. One of the story ideas is about an elderly woman in Paris who lives alone and gets stuck in her bathroom. She starts clanging on the bathroom door to get help. Her neighbors hear the noise and complain about it, but they don’t go over to where the woman lives to see what’s wrong. And so, the woman doesn’t get rescued until the landlord comes over to collect his rent.
What is the point of this story? Nothing, except it’s a lead-in to this insipid dialogue: Matt says, “Who gets stuck in a bathroom?” Naomi replies, “The same idiots who get stuck in a blizzard.”
Matt also gets upset when Naomi announces that she’s already planning for their bodies to be found: “I think we should write a letter for when we’re discovered.” “Centigrade” also has a few predictable “false hope” scenes, where it looks like Naomi and Matt could be rescued, but then they’re not.
As the only two actors in the movie who speak on camera, Rodriguez and Piazza don’t have much to do with their dull and dreary roles, because most of the hollow dialogue gives no real insight into their personalities. Naomi spends more time talking about what she wants to write instead of talking about what’s going to happen to her unborn child. The movie is so out of touch with reality that it doesn’t really show that the biggest worry for expectant parents in this situation would be the fate of their child.
Piazza does a little bit of a better job in his role than Rodriguez does in hers, because it seems like she’s just reading some of her lines instead of acting. Rodriguez also has some unrealistic mannerisms throughout the first two-thirds of the movie that will make people forget that she’s supposed to playing a pregnant woman.
There’s no context in the movie about how Matt and Naomi met, how long they’ve been married, and why they fell in love with each other. This type of context would go a long way in getting the audience to root for Matt and Naomi to get rescued. Matt reveals a secret during the ordeal, but it’s not a secret that will change his relationship with Naomi.
You wouldn’t know that these spouses and their unborn child are in a life-and-death situation by the way that Matt and Naomi just slump in the car and listlessly talk about what they’re thinking, in between their unproductive arguments. There’s no real heart-pounding urgency to this story, no escalating tension over what their escape plan should be if no one comes to rescue them, no growing panic over whether or not their baby will survive. This badly written and tediously paced film not only has the characters buried in snow, but the movie also buries itself in substandard nonsense.
IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Centigrade” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 28, 2020.