CENTIGRADE is a Survival Thriller That Just Gets By

Based on true events, Brendan Walsh’s film is not for the claustrophobic

In the darkest, rawest moments of parenthood there’s a sea of self-doubt and anxiety waiting to consume you. Maybe it’s more apt to say that sea is waiting for you to fall into it. However you prefer to describe it, it’s always there waiting for your indulgence. At some point you’ll give in. It could happen in a quiet moment when you’re laying in bed, imagining the rest of your life. Or it could happen in the middle of the night when your baby has been fussing for hours and all you want is an hour of sleep before your alarm goes off. It’s okay to indulge a little. That’s part of being a parent. Then you work through it and start to build your confidence. It helps build you up to take on the unexpected tidal waves of despair that are looming. If you’re lucky you’ll go through the relatively minor anxieties first. Just kidding, no one’s ever that lucky. You don’t really get to wade into the parenting pool. Rather, you’re repeatedly thrown into the deep end and forced to learn how to swim.

For Naomi and Matt, the young couple at the center of the survival thriller Centigrade (available on VOD), the metaphors for the challenges of parenthood become real when they get caught in a snowstorm on a lonesome road in Norway. To avoid icy roads they make the responsible choice to pull over for the night and sleep in their car. They wake up and they’re snowed in. What follows is a chamber piece with Naomi and Matt stuck in their car as they do what they can to survive. Despite not having much physical room to work with, Genesis Rodriguez and Vincent Piazza navigate tricky psychological territory as Naomi and Matt. They go through many of the usual survival thriller notes (fear, crumbling sanity, strengthening resolve, determination, etc), but the urgency of their performances makes those familiar beats work.

Centigrade feels like plenty of other survival stories. I know this is a rich genre but the films that immediately came to mind for me were Open Water and Buried. Like the Ryan Reynolds in a coffin movie, Centigrade makes the most of its tight quarters. Director Brendan Walsh and cinematographer Seamus Tierney shoot the film in a way that keeps the film from getting stale. They make every move feel significant, even if it’s just someone climbing a seat or turning around. The audience feels the tightness. And, like in Open Water, Naomi and Matt’s relationship is laid bare, stripped of all pretense. It’s raw. I wish the script, credited to Walsh and Daley Nixon, found a unique way to handle this, but, again, Rodriguez and Piazza carry the day.

While the film isn’t boring, it does hit a lot of notes we’ve seen before. But the script kind of turns that around on the audience when, after a couple weeks in the car, Naomi gives birth, and suddenly she and Matt have to keep a newborn alive in freezing temperatures. That’s where the film finds its footing and feels distinct. Naomi and Matt go through normal new parent struggles over feeding, sleeping, and crying, plus the baby’s problems. A baby will absolutely break you down in ways you anticipate and ways you can’t. Combine that with being trapped in a car and it would be a miracle if anyone came out with their sanity intact. As a story about surviving the unthinkable, Centigrade has a workmanlike efficiency. As a story about parenthood, Centigrade is terrifying. I’m four years removed from dealing with an infant and this film brought all my anxieties back to the fore. It made me reflect on how my wife and I got through those times, and how grateful we were to have someone to work through it with.

Centigrade doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it’s well made and the performances by Rodriguez and Piazza keep you engaged. The film provoked more introspection than I anticipated, and even though it channeled some tough emotions I’m glad I got to spend the time reflecting. I realize that most people won’t want to watch a film that dredges up old anxieties, but having something of an emotional reckoning from a distance felt pleasantly cathartic. I don’t know if this quite qualifies as a recommendation, but I got a little more out of Centigrade than I anticipated, and I appreciate the film for that.

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