Much like Wrong Turn (2003), Cold Prey / Fritt vilt (2006) has a group of youths picked off by a deranged local, and while originality isn’t wholly present in the script or dialogue – much of the verbal exchanges are flat and don’t exceed the tiresome banter of oversexed youths - director Roar Uthaug was smart enough to exploit the physical aspects of his native Norway.
Even if the film had been set in the summer with the cast of twentysomethings going hiking instead of extreme snowboarding, we still would’ve been impressed with Norway’s gorgeous mountains – large and elegant structures that are equally foreboding for the near-total lack of trees for miles on end.
That barren landscape is what makes the isolated ski lodge where the kids spend the night so compelling; shut down for thirty years, it’s a time capsule of chunky wood décor, kitschy music, fuzzy mould and crinkly rust, and it’s totally appropriate to see it in such a dusty, frozen state, existing like an elaborate trap for off-road travellers.
Uthaug, cinematographer Daniel Voldheim, and production designer Astrid Sætren have created a chilling maze for the characters, and Uthaug maintains an excellent balance of slow plotting and exploration, so audiences are aware of the physical boundaries once the killer appears and snuffs them out with his large ice pick. It’s refreshing also to see the killer not be a sexual sadist who collectors and tortures his prey, but unfortunately his reasons for stalking and dispatching lodge intruders to the Heavens is kept vague until a muddy end scene.
Part of the problem is the English subtitles don’t translate the newspaper headlines (and neither does the terrible English dub track), so we never know the details Jannicke reads in the old newspaper clippings that adorn the killer’s nook. The final scene explains the connection between the killer and news reports of a boy who disappeared at the lodge thirty years ago, but the reasons for his predicament isn’t clarified.
Just as fuzzy is his reasons for killing strangers; one has to presume it’s to eliminate unwanted visitors, but then the script has him keep a stock room of their gear and trinkets – objects the villains from Wrong Turn and Wolf Creek (2005) collected (and for more logical and fetishistic reasons).
With the killer not being a cannibal, there’s also the question of how he’s been able to sustain himself for so long, since the lodge doesn’t contain anything edible after so many years. The logistics of the plot become nagging questions after the film’s final act, but as a straightforward slasher, it delivers the goods, which include trauma to young lovers, T&A teasing (mostly through provocative Ingunn), and great atmosphere. Magnus Beite’s score lacks a needed edginess, but he provides a straightforward dose of score and sound design.
Anchor Bay’s DVD comes with enough making-of featurettes to compensate for a lack of a commentary track, and the visual and sound effects are broken down into separate featurettes that show off some of the simple digital tricks used to render gorgeous mountains and a fully functional lodge into a terror trap.
The film has two pivotal scenes of perfunctory character intros – an early car scene, where the group’s relationships are established; and a bar scene where the hot stud realizes why Ingunn is reluctant to remove her unmentionables – and it’s the car scene that’s dissected on the DVD, starting with rehearsal footage, an assembly edit, and the reconfigured version that worked much better in the finished film.
Also included is a blah music video that intercuts film footage with Bloodlight’s performance of “One Eye Open,” and two short films by Uthaug. Mountain Rose Runs Amok is a bogus trailer that has the Cold Prey cast being chased by (presumably) the angry spirit of a recently hung chicken, and An Evening in the Green is an early film where a lawn mower eventually goes after its operator; the latter’s short is cute, but one senses a contrived finale because the operator is doing yard work in a dress shirt and tie.
Cold Prey is likely to get lumped with the usual dose of monthly direct-to-video slasher fodder, but it’s far above the derivative crap made for some quick cash. Uthaug’s a smart director with a touch for atmosphere; he needs a refined script with memorable characters to make a stronger impact, but this is an impressive feature film debut.
In 2008, lead actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal appeared in Fritt vilt II, which had her apparently being stalking in a hospital. Shades of Halloween II (1981), perhaps?
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan