I Am Going to Kill You: Cold Hell

As we rush to the finish line of yet another year in horror, I’ve found myself looking back on the movies I watched and loved during the year. Cold Hell is a film I saw prior to starting this site. With all of the movies coming out after, I haven’t really had a chance to go back and think on the film or review it. I haven’t seen many people talk about it, though, which I think is a shame. So, I went back and rewatched it.

Cold Hell opens drenched in neon lights and a soundtrack that brings to mind old detective movies. A sad trumpet belts out a melody as lonely and sad as our protagonist, a taxi driver named Özge Dogruol (Violetta Schurawlow). The entire opening feels reminiscent of noir, as it contrasts Özge driving with shots of a woman undressing in a window, with the figure of a man behind her. Then the violence happens. The man smashes the woman’s head against the window at the same moment Özge smashes the nose of a man who calls her a slur and won’t let her pass.

After Özge gets home, she goes to open a window and sees the aftermath of the scene mentioned above. Her neighbor was tortured and murdered. But more importantly, she sees the killer. And he sees her. Özge immediately calls the police, who show up and interrogate her. We’re thrust immediately into her predicament. She’s underestimated for being a woman. She’s looked down on and discounted for her race. Everywhere she goes, she has to fight and punch and kick to make ends meet. Her history has sharpened her into a survivor who takes Thai boxing classes and doesn’t suffer any fools.

A deep-seated anger boils inside her. When the police are no help for her immediate safety she does what most people would do and turns to her family. Even there, though, she’s turned away. A dark history with her father has driven a wedge between her and her family. Özge is alone and there is a killer after her.

What follows is a figurative cage match. On one side, you have a serial killer who fueled by a misguided “righteous” rage and is specifically targeting Muslim prostitutes. On the other is Özge, a woman who’s been pushed so hard that she is just asking for a fight. And with this one triggering event, they are set on a collision course.

Violetta Schurawlow is kinetic as Özge. She attacks the role as viciously as her character does those who’ve wronged her. But she is also able to show the underlying sadness. This isn’t someone who chose this life or the way she is forced to navigate it. The underlying societal system—family, society, cultural—has modeled her. When the shit hits the fan, she finds herself let down again; by family, by the police, by her former lover.

Cold Hell is punctuated with intense moments of action. The set pieces are excellent. A close quarters fight in a taxi careening down the road is as thrilling as any blockbuster car chase. Everything is staged to perfection by Academy Award winning director Stefan Ruzowitzk. He and his cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels scope the action with cold precision, but also allow space and time for the characters to breathe.

The biggest faulting step here is the script. The second act has a pacing issue, partially due to a kind of ridiculous romantic side plot that feels forced and out of character. There's some nifty character work as Özge gets to see how a different kind of family works and we get to see a more tender side. But the story is at its best when it’s about Özge and the killer’s game of cat and mouse.  Once we hit the third act and vengeance is back to the forefront, it course corrects and the intensity ratchets up again.

I'm so glad I rewatched Cold Hell. Seeing it again reminded me why I loved it in the first place. It’s a delicious blend of neo-noir with some splattering of the old Italian giallo films. It’s an intense and beautiful film that'd be banger double feature with Revenge.

MoviesTerrymovies, review