Claustrophic Centigrade grapples with fear in frozen confines
If you have claustrophobia — a fear of confined spaces — I would not recommend watching the new film, Centigrade, which takes that fear and turns it up to 11. Not only does it take place entirely in one small space, it adds on multiple elements that ratchet up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.
As the film begins, Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and Matt (Vincent Piazza) wake up in their car to find it completely covered by snow. The night before, they had pulled over on the side of the road during a blinding snowstorm. Now, after a few attempts at opening doors and starting the car, it's clear they've become trapped.
Thus the two begin a slow march, going back and forth between freaking out and resignation as there seems to be no way out. Naomi is especially vulnerable given that she’s pregnant. Although they have plenty of air, a diminishing amount of food and water, as well as the freezing cold, makes their chances of survival slimmer and slimmer as the days go along.
Written and directed by Brendan Walsh, with an assist from co-writer Daley Nixon, the film has inherent drama because its characters can’t escape their current situation. In spite of not actually experiencing the confined space ourselves, viewers can’t help but feel the intensity of what it would be like to be there. Although there is obvious moviemaking trickery to allow the camera to show different angles, the majority of shots in the film are inside the car, keeping the anxiety high.
But it’s not just the inability to get away from the inside of the car that makes the story tough to bear. As time goes along, Naomi and Matt devolve into arguments — some reasonable, others petty — which might feel familiar for anyone who’s had to endure quarantine in 2020. And just when their situation couldn’t seem to get any worse, an event in the film’s second half makes their already small space feel even smaller.
Walsh's only misstep is his occasional use of shots outside the car. The scene has already been set, and random looks at snow-covered mountains do nothing to heighten the characters’ feelings of fear and isolation. If the characters don’t get a break, then neither should the audience.
Both Rodriguez and Piazza do a great job of propelling the plot of the film despite the limitations of the location. One would think there are only so many different ways to act in such a stressful time, but they both find ways to make each moment its own unique thing.
While not quite as good as the similarly-confined 7500 earlier this year, Centigrade has plenty to offer, both story- and acting-wise. It may strike an extra nerve for anyone watching at home, but that just means it’s doing its job well.
Centigrade is opening in theaters on August 28. It will also be available via VOD and streaming options like Vudu, GooglePlay, and FandangoNow.