Centigrade marks the return of our old friend the Ordeal Movie. I coined that term in my book Straight-Up Blatant to describe films that put their characters into a harrowing situation, then have the viewer stay right there with them for the duration. When done right, Ordeal Movies are emotionally exhausting because they make you continually tense. This one has a unique scenario that plays on claustrophobia, fear of running out of food, and being buried alive. I mean it as a total compliment to say Centigrade will drive you nuts.
Director/co-writer Brendan Walsh wastes no time setting up the premise. A married couple, Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and Matt (Vincent Piazza), are trapped inside their vehicle during a blizzard. We eventually learn that they pulled over because it was no longer safe to drive. The snow has piled up around and on top of their car. They're literally encased in it. Some of the usual obstacles factor in, such as the inability to use a cell phone. Others are even more troubling. For example, they don't have a lot of food with them, and Naomi is about to give birth at any time.
With all that in place, Centigrade shows how they attempt to survive until – or if – they can be rescued. Aside from the obvious physical peril, the couple finds issues from within their marriage bubbling to the surface. They start playing a blame game about who's responsible for the predicament, and that leads to the airing of other grievances. That's a fascinating dynamic because at the same time that Naomi and Matt are bickering, they have no one to rely on except each other.
Walsh keeps the tension ratcheting up. Like any good Ordeal Movie, Centigrade puts you vicariously in the shoes of its characters. You constantly ask yourself what you would do in their position. Escalating complications turn their entrapment more dire, because death seems increasingly imminent. Although both actors are good, Rodriguez does an especially potent job conveying the terror Naomi feels. She's not just afraid for herself, but also for her unborn baby. The actress makes palpable the idea that this woman recognizes not getting out of the car will deprive her of the opportunity to be a mother. The stakes could not be higher.
A few minor things hold the picture back from greatness. Starting in the car was possibly a mistake. The marital dilemma might have registered even more strongly if we saw the buildup to being buried under the snow. Letting us witness the treacherous drive through the blizzard would have been exciting in its own right. It's also weird that Matt and Naomi never think to try breaking through the sunroof of their SUV and digging up. If Walsh wanted to get deep into the most primal horror of the situation, he could have gone one step further. It's admittedly disgusting, but Centigrade addresses one toileting need, but not the other. An event that takes place around the third act kind of necessitates going there. You can't blame the film for not wanting to get gross, although doing so absolutely would have emphasized the unbearable nature of what this couple faces.
Again, those are not significant flaws. Centigrade is exceptionally well-acted and, just as importantly, one hundred percent credible in the depiction of being inside a frozen car. The breath of the actors is even visible when they talk. That makes us feel like we're in there with Naomi and Matt, which, of course, is the primary function of an Ordeal Movie.
Centigrade delivers ninety-eight minutes of non-stop tension.
out of four
Centigrade is unrated, but contains adult language and general intensity. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.