Cold Weather

(originally published in the Roosevelt University Torch, 3/20/11.)

Cold Weather, which opened in Chicago last week after premiering at the Chicago International Film Festival last October, is a bit of a mystery. That is to say, there’s a bit of a mystery, which the characters are tasked with unraveling. But only when the film finds time to get around to it.

The film opens on a wet windowpane, giving the viewer a chance to luxuriate in the ultra-crisp images captured by the Red One Digital Camera, the same camera used by David Fincher to shoot The Social Network. These images have much of the same chilly, ultra-crisp character of Fincher’s film, which suits this story equally well.

The film’s plot concerns Doug, a twenty-something forensics school dropout, who has returned home to Portland to live with his sister. Terminally listless, he accepts a low-wage job at a local ice packaging plant with a shrug, and the movie takes its time painstakingly detailing Doug’s shallow, boring existence before finally dragging its feet into “whodunit” mode.

When writer-director Aaron Katz lets the movie simply be a movie, his characters, along with the film, are invigorated. Just about the time you’re wondering when (If ever) the mystery element will come into play, it finally does. The twist goes like this: Doug’s ex-girlfriend is in town, but when she fails to show for a meeting with friends, things take a suspicious turn, and Doug, an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, finds himself in the middle of a caper.

Even in its high points, though, Cold Weather is annoyingly anachronistic. The jaunty musical score juxtaposes oddly with the dreary, wet color palette of rainy Portland, and visually stunning landscape portraits are too-often butted up against lazy, boring two-shots.

Cold Weather has occasionally been lumped in with the so-called “Mumblecore” movement—a recent slew of American films which feature awkward, non-communicative post-grads fumbling quietly through early adulthood. Admittedly, this film does fall prey to many of the same tropes. Many viewers might find themselves resistant to the idea of these supposedly college-educated characters expressing themselves in a manner just a few IQ points away from mouth breathers. I assume these filmmakers are aiming for an ultra-realistic style, but I have to wonder—is anyone actually this awkward in real life?

Doug, his sister Gail, and his Ex-girlfriend Rachel all seem to be cluelessly stumbling from one encounter to the next. To its credit, the film never tells us how were supposed to feel about these characters, but my guess is Katz is plenty sympathetic to their plight.

Stripped of their “umms” and “I dunno’s”, there are likely interesting characters buried under the actors in Cold Weather. Unfortunately, we only get to see them in too-fleeting glimpses. Cold Weather is a pretty crackerjack little thriller when it wants to be, but that’s clearly not what Katz is interested in, which is a shame.