Strong performances and a moving score elevate A Fire in the Cold Season, a thriller that offers few genuine thrills.
Written and directed by Justin Oakey (Riverhead), A Fire in the Cold Season opens on the misty forests of rural Newfoundland. Scott (Stephen Oates) is a trapper who stumbles upon a body in the woods and finds himself drawn toward the dead man’s pregnant girlfriend, Mona (Michaela Kurimsky). For a film that centers its story around the dark underbelly of its idyllic rural setting, A Fire in the Cold Season is lacking in the most important elements of any thriller: a tense, gripping plot and compelling mystery. Instead, we are left with a visually appealing flick that nonetheless meanders toward its climax without any sense of urgency.
The landscape is lovingly rendered – bitter cold, damp, and hard. There is an undeniable poetry in this film. The score is similarly beautiful. With elements of folk and traditional Newfoundland music scattered throughout, it is tense and well suited to the cinematography. Aesthetically, there is a rhythm to the grimness and a kind of bleak beauty in the washed-out palette of grey, green, and blue. The most memorable scenes in the film are those of Scott driving across the river. We look out the windshield of his truck, seeing this place through his eyes: the narrow highway and the frozen ground.
But nothing seems to really happen. And, even when a character does make a discovery or reveal some piece of information that pushes the story forward, there is a glaring lack of momentum.
While every performance in the film was laudable, Kurimsky is a standout. She brings a quiet and captivating intensity to her role as Mona. I was impressed with her performance in Firecrackers and, once again, she has shown herself to be an actor to watch for. As much as I enjoyed the vibrancy that she brought to the character, I couldn’t help wishing that she had a bit more to sink her teeth into. Oakey’s dialogue is understated, almost to the point of blandness, and while Kurimsky and Oates have excellent chemistry, their verbal exchanges are not particularly memorable.
When all is said and done, the cinematography, score, and even the performances themselves feel like window-dressing that can’t quite disguise the fact that the story itself is undercooked. It’s such a shame when one considers just how good A Fire in the Cold Season could have been with a tighter plot and better pacing.
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