Cold Prey

cast: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Rolf Kristian Larsen, Viktoria Winge, Endre Martin Midtstigen, and Tomas Alf Larsen

director: Roar Uthaug

97 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont

Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah they were all yellow

No. This is not a film about a dyslexic Coldplay fan with a speech impediment. Instead it is a Norwegian horror film. Cold Prey (aka: Fritt vilt) proved so hugely popular in its native Norway that not only did it spawn a sequel (included with Cold Prey in a neat double DVD pack) but it also uncovered a hunger for home-grown horror that would later allow the release of last month’s promising Manhunt. Unfortunately, aside from the odd flourish, Cold Prey is a somewhat disappointing film. In fact you could sing a song about it…

Loads of Norwegians
Look how they die for you
The direction is poo
It feels so generic

In typical slasher movie fashion, Cold Prey opens with a load of young people driving across country. The film’s opening credits are visually impressive, introducing us to some shady events at an old ski-lodge accompanied by the discordant screeching of bizarre electronica. The credits are moody, atmospheric and really set the tone for a proper slasher film. Unfortunately, these credits end and director Roar Uthaug immediately decides to piss all of that atmosphere up the wall by having his dim-witted cast flirt their way across Norway to some of most pathetic and over-produced nu-metal I have ever heard. The group eventually arrive at their destination but the flirting and rubbish music continue apace as they snowboard their way down a huge mountain until someone falls over and breaks his leg. ‘Oooh… compound fracture. Looks nasty… Bet that really hurts’ you might say to yourself whilst dancing about with schadenfreude-induced delight.

The problem is not that these characters are inherently hateful. The actors do a reasonable job of getting across the tensions within the group and they are pleasant to look at (aside from Tomas Alf Larsen who looks like a constipated Peter Andre). It’s just that there’s too much screen time for them considering how little thought went into the writing of their characters.

Cold Prey is just over an hour and a half long and it is 40 minutes before the first murder takes place. Until then you are effectively stuck watching the Norwegian equivalent to Hollyoaks as ‘Peter Andre’ moans about how his girlfriend does not want to move in with him, while the other couple spend most of the first act snogging each other’s faces off whilst brooding over whether to admit to each other that they are dating. The current trend in horror films is towards throwing audiences in at the deep end and only having the most minimal of plots. Films such as Them, Inside (2007), and The Strangers (2008), all embrace this minimalist approach to plotting and are much the stronger for it. Do not get me wrong. I am not some addle-brained gore-hound who wants to fast-forward through the talky bits, but if you are going to go for heavy plot and characterisation then you really should either make the drama inherently interesting or you should have something to say. For example, the British horror film Eden Lake got away with lots of character building and backstory because the film’s plot flowed from the characters and the film had a wider social message. Cold Prey, by contrast, has utterly anodyne characters with dull personal issues that have no bearing on the plot and service no bigger ideas or messages.

Sadly, once the film gets moving things do not measurably improve. The maniac looks creepy enough in his furs and old skiing gear but his use of a huge great pickaxe as a murder weapon merely brings to mind the vastly superior My Bloody Valentine (1981). The murders themselves are poorly conceived and badly directed as they usually amount to the murderer turning up and swinging an axe only for the camera to cut away from the killing blow. After so much preamble, the lack of tension and impact from Cold Prey’s set-pieces is completely unforgivable. However, the film does have its interesting moments.

While Uthaug fails to deliver on the level of visceral thrills, he does display some skill at terrifying his own characters. In one particularly nice moment, a character announces that they are all doomed and tries to make a run for it. He runs straight into the murderer who clubs him to the ground and breaks his neck. All of this happens in plain view of the other characters who look on, horrified, from a nearby window. The film’s climax involves a similar conceit whereby the ‘final girl’ has to pretend to be dead beneath her best friends’ corpses while the killer casually drags them to a cliff and chucks them off. In essence, these types of scenes confront the young characters with their own mortality, a concept that was doubtless far from their minds while they were snowboarding and flirting. These scenes pepper the second half of the film and they add some depth to what would otherwise be a completely by-the-numbers slasher.

A lot has been made of the film’s look. Cold Prey was filmed at a remote ski lodge in Norway’s Jotunheimen region and so, as one of the actors points out in the rather dull ‘making of’ featurette, a lot of Cold Prey’s visuals come ‘for free’. Uthaug shoots most of the film through a bluish grey filter, giving the film a steely cold aesthetic vaguely reminiscent of that used by Andrew Dominik in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, whilst also reminding us of other snowbound horror films such as Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Despite filming on location in a stunning and snowbound landscape, Uthaug really fails to make the most of what he has to work with. It’s all very well pointing the camera at the mountains from time to time but films like Let The Right One In (2008) show what can be accomplished if you know how to light and film snow properly, while Kassovitz’s The Crimson Rivers turned a glacier into a weird otherworld where anything was possible. A better director could have made Cold Prey look incredible, Uthaug merely manages to make it look good.

While Uthaug does show the odd moment of inspiration, it is clear that Cold Prey’s failure should be laid clearly at his feet. His failure to trim back the script resulted in a film that feels baggy and directionless at a time when horror films are becoming increasingly tight and focussed. Additionally, his lack of understanding of the nuts and bolts of horror filmmaking resulted in a film entirely lacking in memorable kills and completely devoid of any sense of tension or fear. There are moments that come close to redeeming Cold Prey, this is very much one for slasher fans only.