It isn't hard to see why Wind Chill is getting left out in the cold in the US theatrical market. As messy and confusing as it often is, however, this misfit horror thriller - produced, originally for Revolution Studios, by the UK's Blueprint Pictures and Steven Soderbergh's Section Eight - still has some merits, including a strong performance from British lead Emily Blunt and flashes of promise from director Gregory Jacobs.
The merits probably won't be enough to produce a significant box office take but they could draw some curious genre fans and a few indie film aficionados when the film reaches the DVD market.
Sony's TriStar Pictures opened the film (with minimal advertising support) this weekend on just 42 screens in 10 North American markets. With several wide-release genre films hitting the marketplace at the same time, and with Spider-Man 3 just around the corner, Wind Chill's domestic theatrical run seems likely to be short, though Blunt's growing US reputation (after her award-winning appearance in The Devil Wears Prada) could shift a few multiplex tickets.
Sony Pictures Releasing International's plans for the film in other territories are not clear, but in the UK Blunt - who's well known at home for her stage and TV work as well as features including My Summer Of Love - will be a bigger selling point.
True to the film's initially spare feel, none of the characters in the script by Joseph Gangemi and Steven Katz (Shadow Of The Vampire) are named. Blunt plays a sexy but prickly college student who answers an ad offering a ride home for the Christmas holiday. Co-star Ashton Holmes (from A History Of Violence and TV's Boston Legal) plays the serious-minded philosophy student in whose dilapidated car the two set off for a long drive through a wintry landscape.
Jacobs - a Soderbergh protege who previously made Criminal, the US version of Argentinian caper hit Nine Queens - shoots the first half of the story with admirable restraint. Except for a stop-off in the traditional creepy gas station, the focus is on the awkward relationship between the two students, who obviously move in different circles of college society.
Though they sometimes seem talky, the car scenes give the two main characters the kind of dimension that's rarely offered in genre pictures. And Blunt's performance in particular gives the girl an interesting mix of bitchiness, strength and vulnerability.
Taking a shortcut through a snowbound forest, the pair are driven off the road and stranded just as night is falling. After a few teasing false shocks, the film now turns into an odd mix of slasher tale, ghost story and psychological chiller.
The mysterious figures that begin to move about in the forest - and a visit from a threatening highway patrolman (Donovan) - ramp up the suspense, but after a while the story seems to stall.
The mystery - apparently involving a decades-earlier string of deaths and Friedrich Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence - turns out to be too baffling to have any narrative worth. And Jacobs just adds to the confusion by trying to spice things up with some David Lynch-style time- and identity-shifting.
Sony Pictures Releasing International