Monday, 18 January 2016

Film Review - 'Cold Prey'

You don't really expect much from a 'slasher' film, do you? You know the sort I mean - a group of pretty young people being hunted and killed by some mysterious figure. Sure, there may be some variation. One killer could, for example, be a zombie. Another might hunt his victims through their dreams. Others might just be crazy. Then, of course, there are the wild variations you can find in the actual quality of a specific film - where one example may manage to be perfectly entertaining in spite of its reliance on very familiar tropes, while another never really had a chance.

Regardless, though, if you see enough of them, then there's a fair chance that all of these sorts of films will end up looking the same, after a while.

Cold Prey (released as Fritt Vilt in its native country, which actually translates as 'Open Season') is a Norwegian entry into the 'slasher' genre, first released in 2006. It is, as you can probably expect, one that doesn't try to stray too far from the accepted formula - but, despite this, it still manages to succeed quite admirable at what it sets out to do.

A group of five friends (Jannicke, Eirik, Morten Tobias, Mikal and Ingunn) travel together to the mountains for a day of snowboarding. However, things go badly for the group when Morten has an accident and breaks his leg. With their only means of transport left far away, at the base of the mountain, the group turn instead to what they take to be a nearby mountain resort hotel.

When they arrive, though, they find the place to be long abandoned - though, with night approaching and an injured friend to care for, the group decide that it is still their best chance. So, they decide to camp out for the night, and make their way to safety in the morning. The hotel turns out to be comfortable enough, if a bit creepy - and, there is even an electric generator that they are able to get working. Despite the fact that all evidence suggests that the hotel has been abandoned since 1975, which is the last date listed in the hotel's guest book, the group are able to find enough to make themselves comfortable.

It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, though, that the group is not actually alone. The abandoned hotel happens to be the home of a mysterious figure who doesn't care much for visitors, and the group of friends suddenly find themselves being picked off, one by one.

As an example of that classic brand of 'slasher' film, Cold Prey does rather well for itself - though, depending on your view of the slasher/thriller genre in general, that could seem like a textbook example of damning something with faint praise. The important thing, though, is that the cast of pretty young people set up to be slaughtered by the crazy Mountain Man are likable enough, overall, and (best of all) none of them come across as overtly stupid. They are also, thanks to the efforts of a talented young cast, far enough away from the sort of bland caricature you sometimes get in these sorts of movies to be able to hold a viewer's interested.

Also, in what must have been a deliberate subversion of the standard 'slasher' movie plot-line, the first to die is even a virgin, who actually turns down sex before she is killed - so, it feels like the film should receive some credit for that, alone.

What the film does show is that it actually doesn't seem to take all that much to make a successful and engaging 'slasher' film. All you really need is a suitable atmospheric setting (which an abandoned mountain resort closed in by snow is perfectly capable of providing), a killer that seems to present a genuine and legitimate threat (which the mysterious Mountain Man certainly is), and a cast of characters who aren't complete idiots.

Anyone familiar with the standard conventions of a slasher film will know that it's this last one that film-makers tend to struggle with - with characters whose various violent deaths often seem more laughable than tragic, thanks to the fact that they clearly brought it on themselves. By managing to avoid that, here, Cold Prey is instantly able to raise itself above so many similar films - by giving the audience a cast of characters that they can actually invest in. Throughout the entirety of the film, Cold Prey managed to give us a group of characters who wilfully refused to make the usual sorts of stupid decisions. They were allowed to be creative and clever in their efforts to survive - which, of course, also had the positive outcome of forcing the villainous Mountain Man to be just as creative and clever in his efforts to murder them.

That would have to be the film's greatest achievement, overall. And, that is what makes Cold Prey a film that is one of the most entertaining examples of its type that I have ever come across.

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