Javier Barbera's "Cold Grip" is a no-budget US indie flick that actually has the potential to realise its ambition and become the taut, viciously intense and fashionably bleak thriller it would like to be! Unlike many garish, shot-on-video cheapies, several key scenes indicate that Barbera possesses some degree of artistic flair for a dark and visceral form of screen nihilism; and composer Marcello De Francisci's score offers much more than the usual unimaginative synth-based "slasher" underscoring (almost always highly derivative of Bernard Herrmann's famous score for "Psycho") so frequently found thoughtlessly plastered all-over this type of production. This film is very much a three act affair; in fact, each of the individual segments would've worked very well in their own right as separate short stories. By combining these three strong - but fairly standard - thriller ideas, and making use of the same small cast of characters to bind them into one, Barbera should have come-up with a highly memorable and supremely nasty little offering that could have transcended its ugly, video-derived visual aesthetics. Sadly, maybe because he falls, all too readily, into the trap of trying to do too much by himself on a shoestring budget (Barbera writes, directs, produces and edits the film), the finished whole is very-much less than the sum of its parts, and becomes a pedestrian, sometimes embarrassingly amateur, would-be shocker which exhibits only the occasional hint of the inspired intensity inherent in its bleak scenario.
A mysterious opening scene in a Californian airport sets the scene: a woman is covertly photographing a man as he emerges from 'Arrivals' having just flown in from New York; she then "engineers" a meeting and they both share a taxi. The man is called Robert and is in town on business; the woman calls herself Greta and is from Miami. Greta shows a lot of interest in the taciturn young man and her dark beauty is enough to enamour Robert into agreeing to a date later that evening. But Robert doesn't know that he is just the latest in a long line of innocent men to fall into a terrible sex trap which will destroy his life! The second phase of the film sees Robert planning and then exacting a truly vile revenge on Greta for what she has done to him; while the final act involves another of Greta's prospective victims -- saved when his date with the lethal seductress fell through because Robert had "disposed" of her -- getting himself into an even more hideous situation when, while camping in the woods with his girlfriend, he stumbles upon Robert disposing of Greta's body in a shallow grave! The two holidaymakers are then caught in a desperate battle for survival in the isolated countryside as Robert, determined not to pay for his desperate crime, ruthlessly hunts them down!
As already stated, there is so much here that promises a dark and disturbing ride into psychological torment and a clever essay in taut suspense: the opening of the film is strange and intriguing and sets-up a nightmare situation in the most deceptively mundane of settings. The payoff to this first third plays on very real misogynistic fears and paranoia and is really quite chillingly effective. The second third of the film then takes a previously sympathetic character and reveals him to be a terrible monster as Robert takes the most brutal revenge on the woman who has ruined his life! Although not particularly gory, the protracted torture scene that follows is truly upsetting and intense as Robert attacks the screaming, bound-up woman with a succession of work tools and then slices up her corpse with an electric saw in a rented workshop! Finally, the chase sequence that ensues after Robert is discovered disposing of pieces of Greta wrapped in plastic bin bags is very effectively dealt with: a huge amount of suspense is generated as the two bewildered campers become lost and separated from each-other in the woods -- each knowing that a killer is lurking somewhere in the undergrowth! The finale that results is unexpectedly bleak and ironic.
So why then, does this film fail so spectacularly as a whole? Put bluntly, unless dealing with suspense or torture sequences, Barbera seems either to be at a complete loss or to have no interest whatsoever in the surrounding material. The script is often woeful and there is next to no elaboration at all on the character of the protagonists or their nightmarish situation. Why is Greta doing what she is doing to young male strangers? Was Robert just an ordinary man driven over the edge by the situation she gets him into, or was he already a psychopathic killer and she just chose the wrong man to tangle with? Ambiguity is not always a bad thing in thrillers of this type of course, but it would have really strengthened the effect of this particular film no end for it to have been more forthcoming with the motives of its characters.
This is just a minor point though. Much worse is the clumsiness of the vacuous script, the lame indifference of the acting and the inept direction showcased in all but the few key sequences already mentioned. One often gets the impression that the actors have been left to fend for themselves in any scene that involves dialogue: it feels like they are desperately trying to improvise but don't really have any talent for it! The dialogue is stilted and inane and full of awkward silences; and these banal scenes meander and drag along for ages to little point or effect. If it is the case that they were actually scripted, frankly I'd be amazed! If the problem afflicted just a few sequences then it might be possible to overlook them and enjoy a flawed but otherwise well-made film, but, sadly, the problem is endemic: the date scene between Robert and Greta is a case in point; it's full of pointless chit-chat that seems to labour on for about ten minutes as the two engage in riveting conversation along the lines of:
Greta: "I come from Miami."
Robert: "Really, you come from Miami? I come from New York."
Greta: "I like New York."
Robert: "You like New York? Yeah, it's a great City. Miami is nice as well."
Greta: "Yeah, Miami is a nice City".
All of it shot from one, unvarying camera angle -- as if the crew all went home and left the actors to concoct ten minutes of the film by themselves -- it really does bang on like this for an eternity. But worse is to come: in order to dispose of Greta, Robert rents a workshop/garage; we then have to listen to him being shown around the place by the owner and told where everything is and how everything works, for what feels like yet another ten minutes! We also have to put up with the prospective camper trying to persuade his girlfriend to go on the camping trip with him in a pointless and lengthy one-sided phone conversation; and when the campers are packing up to go home, we get to witness yet another "suspenseful" scene as they take an age trying to disassemble their tent! Without these long-winded and dull-witted sequences, the film would have made quite a decent forty-five minute short. Instead, what we have is an inept and clod-hoping eighty-minute feature that completely ruins the energy and excitement created in its well-executed suspense and horror scenes with all this other poorly acted surrounding flimflam! The cast, by the way, appear to be made up of Spanish or Italian actors. Apart from Anna Lluch who plays Greta, they really aren't up to much and matters aren't helped by their having to act in English rather than their original language.
Screen Entertainment bring "Cold Grip" to UK DVD in a full-frame transfer which looked like it was the correct aspect ratio to me. The video quality is rather flat, but that is how the film was shot rather than anything to do with the transfer. There are no extras apart from a trailer for this and several other Screen Entertainment titles.