Dir: Aaron Katz. US. 2009. 96mins


A failed forensic-science student gets a second chance to live out his Sherlock Holmes fantasies in Cold Weather, writer-director Aaron Katz’s lively mumblecore character comedy that eventually transforms into a sharp detective thriller. Though the film doesn’t always deliver on its ambitions, this clever mash-up of genres ripples with an ingratiating confidence.

When the mystery plot takes hold, Katz smoothly switches gears, turning the film into a nicely taut piece of suspense filmmaking.

Picked up by IFC after its premiere at SXSW, and screening at the LA Film Festival, Cold Weather looks to have a broader box-office appeal than Katz’s previous two micro-budget films, Quiet City and Dance Party, USA. But while the movie’s suspense element might attract a larger indie audience, a lack of stars should limit Cold Weather to being merely a niche performer.

Moving back to his hometown of Portland to live with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), disenfranchised forensics student Doug (Cris Lankenau) takes a job at an ice factory, befriending co-worker Carlos (Raul Castillo) and becoming reacquainted with former girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), who’s in town briefly for work. But when Rachel goes missing, Doug launches an investigation to find her.

Cold Weather’s first half adheres to the tenets of the mumblecore movement, emphasising naturalistic dialogue while superbly charting the nagging frustrations of this quartet of humorously ordinary characters. But when the mystery plot takes hold, Katz smoothly switches gears, turning the film into a nicely taut piece of suspense filmmaking, albeit somewhat pulling focus from his well-observed characters as a result.

Though operating on a small budget, Cold Weather makes great use of its Portland locations, helped immensely by Andrew Reed’s supple camerawork that captures the city’s grey-cloud ominousness. Additionally, Keegan DeWitt’s percussive score heightens the tension as the clues concerning Rachel’s disappearance fall into place. Katz gets strong, empathetic performances from all four leads, but Lankenau is particularly compelling as a downhearted young man who finds a new lease on life thanks to this unexpected mystery he must unravel.

Production companies: Parts and Labor, White Buffalo

US distribution: IFC Films, www.ifcfilms.com

Executive producer: Jack Turner

Producers: Lars Knudsen, Brendan McFadden, Ben Stambler, Jay Van Hoy

Screenplay: Aaron Katz, story by Aaron Katz, Brendan McFadden, Ben Stambler

Cinematography: Andrew Reed

Production designer: Elliott Glick

Editor: Aaron Katz

Music: Keegan DeWitt

Main cast: Cris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo, Robyn Rikoon