A sure-fire way to garner attention for your small budget indie hopeful is to mix things up a little, throw some ideas together, and create a genre mash-up. In the indie field, originality is key, because keen-eyed film buffs nitpick at any hint of familiarity.
This is a problem faced by Cold Weather, the new film from writer-director, Aaron Katz, which collides lo-fi aesthetics with the narrative trappings of the detective thriller. When scrutinised on such a modular level, the film seems to be worryingly close to Brick, the 2005 neo-noir that transported hardboiled Raymond Chandler-isms to a suburban American high school. However, thankfully, Cold Weather has qualities wholly its own.
College dropout, Doug (Cris Lankenau), has boomeranged back to his hometown, moving in with his sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), and is trying to get his life back on track, while doing as little as possible. When not lounging around, reading paperbacks, or disrupting Gail’s office job with frivolous plans for road trips to the coast, he works night shifts at the local ice factory.
With its gentle pacing and subtle, deadpan humour, Cold Weather slowly builds up our relationship with its characters and their odd chemistry. It shows great confidence for Katz to frontload the film in such a way, but both Lankenau and Dunn are on point, crafting the siblings’ life of idle distraction out of conversations that go nowhere, and dull, slightly awkward silences.
So, when the mystery plot does hit, it almost doesn’t matter that it is underdeveloped, at least by genre standards, because the humour and the characters are so well judged and so well communicated that we are swept up in their fumbling enthusiasm
Along with impulsive co-worker (part-time DJ and full-time Star Trek fan) Carlos (Raúl Castillo), they make an offbeat, but engaging team of sleuths, as they mimic the methods of literary and television forebears, hitting on clues almost by accident. At one point Doug, an avid Conan Doyle reader, wastes a day shopping around for a pipe, only to find out that, in reality, copying Sherlock Holmes is merely an affectation.
The mystery itself, which features a suitcase of money, messages in code, secret meetings and a missing girl (who, in fact, isn’t missing at all), is immaterial. It certainly isn’t a head-scratcher, or an intrigue-laden thrill ride. This is ho-hum, drab reality, with the muggy, industrial Portland landscape never daring to develop from naturalism to noir.
The payoff here is seeing these characters caught up in the excitement and adrenaline of the investigation, with their aimless lives given renewed purpose. That the narrative concludes with a giddy, but entirely one-sided car chase confirms this, as the erstwhile slackers experience what, for them, is a high stakes caper.
In that sense, it is less a retread of Brick, than a mumblecore-style recasting of the minor Woody Allen classic, Manhattan Murder Mystery, where a bunch of middle-aged New Yorkers revitalise their lives with a taste of adventure. Similarly, in this unassuming, but charming film, crime solving is cast as a form of procrastination.
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