Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dead of Winter (2009)

Winter has proven time and again to be an effective season for genre films to take place. The best known examples of course, are "The Thing", "The Shining" and "30 Days of Night", though more low budget and foreign entries like "Screams of a Winter Night", "Cold Prey" and "The Last Winter" have taken the frozen, snow covered landscape of winter to try and convey a sense of menace and evil. Another entry into this field of frostbitten horror is veteran TV actor Brian McNamara's 2007 directorial effort "Dead of Winter."

Kevin (Al Santos) and his girlfriend Tiffany (Sandra McCoy) are going to celebrate the 7th anniversary of their relationship. Fine and all, but it all leads to experimenting with Crystal Meth and Randy (Alex Boyd) slips LSD in their drinks. The couple decides to leave the party, only to start to see people and hear voices. To make matters worse, their car breaks down, leaving them in the middle of nowhere, thinking somebody is stalking them.

While the premise sounds a bit like that of a slasher movie, "Dead of Winter" is anything but, as there's not much of a body count or any gore present. Instead, the film decides to use the winter wilderness and paranoia of the two leads to take over, thus creating a sense of dread and horror instead of what a lot of independent productions aim for. That's fine and all, as it works quite well at times (a scene in which Kevin is "chased" is particularly effective.) Hell, the acting is better than expected (smart move getting people that are real actors for a change) and it moves at a reasonable pace. So where does it go wrong?

Well for one thing, the direction is hit and miss. McNamara does make some fine chances and knows how to conjure up a haunting atmosphere, but he also relies a bit too heavily on fast and slow motion techniques as times, which tends to become a bit distracting. Also, while the acting is fine, and while it is an independent production (albeit one released by Lionsgate), it at times feels a bit too much like something you'd find if you watched channels like Lifetime. This particularly shows in the party scene, which feels far too much like something out of a television movie. Then there's the conclusion, which not only explains what happened, but does so with an obligatory twist ending that feels insulting. It also doesn't help that the character of Kevin suddenly becomes a poor man's Jack Torrance in the last 10 minutes.

At best, "Dead of Winter" is at least worth a Netflix streaming on a winter day when there's nothing else to do, but it ultimately ends up becoming a missed opportunity. Sure, it's nice to see an independent horror film that relies more on atmosphere and dread than it does buckets of blood, but the end result is so hit and miss that you'll just shake your head by the time it's over.

Rating: 5/10

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