Wednesday, October 03, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #7: WIND CHILL (2007)

The Story: Two college students take a wrong turn and get stuck on a rural road during a killer snowstorm.  As if that's not bad enough, they're surrounded by ghosts.

Expectations: I'm a sucker for a good ghost story.  In fact, I'd say that the supernatural thriller is my favorite subgenre of horror.  I had high hopes for this one because it was executive produced by Steven Soderberg and George Clooney, which I foolishly interpreted to mean that they had liked the film enough to make sure it got distribution. A quick IMDB search suggests that I was giving them too much credit... thinking that they had a secret personal investment in supernatural thrillers, instead of noting that they were just buddies with the director. 

Reaction: As soon as the two main characters (Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes) have a not-so-casual discussion about Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence, it seemed clear to me where this ghost story was headed.  Paranormal experts will tell you that there are two types of hauntings: residual and intelligent.  A residual haunting is like a recording: ghosts replay (usually violent) events of the past, over and over in the same place.  There is no soul or spirit involved, only the energy of a spiritual imprint.  An intelligent haunting takes place when a spirit has energy in the present, and uses it to get attention or cause harm to the living.

I'm not sure which type of haunting the writers of WIND CHILL were trying to convey, and that bothers me more than it would probably bother most viewers.  My awareness of "paranormal rules" frequently pulled me out of the story... which is a shame because this was otherwise a fairly compelling movie.  The setting is effectively eerie (reminding me of a similarly effective winter nightmare, Adam Green's FROZEN) and the characters were interesting enough to keep me engaged... but the ghosts often seemed forced into this simple and compelling story.  I can't help thinking that less would have been so much more.  One spirit, or maybe two, would have been enough to set the characters and the viewer on edge for the entirety of the film.  Instead, the filmmakers deliver three different sets of ghosts -- each with their own backstory, each backstory explained in clunky sequences that dilute the genuinely creepy atmosphere of the film.  In fact, I found myself cringing when the story veered into overwrought exposition... instead of when I should have been scared.  WIND CHILL remains a decent horror film, but mostly I see a missed opportunity. 

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Soon after the main characters become stranded in the middle of nowhere, we notice a figure moving behind them, outside the car.  The characters don't notice at first. This moment of suspense is perfect in its simplicity -- the audience's fear is rooted entirely in our casual awareness that there shouldn't be anyone else on that road (and certainly not walking through a snowstorm).  See?  Less is more.

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