The label independent film is tossed around so casually it can mean almost anything, but Cold Weather – written, directed and edited by Aaron Katz – displays a true independent vision. This accomplished, small-scale work dares to break a fundamental rule of movie-making: it starts out as one kind of film and playfully, successfully swerves into another.
The lumpish, low-key hero, Doug, (Cris Lankenau) has given up his study of forensic science and returned home to Portland, where he and his sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) share an apartment and no future. So far, Cold Weather is an arrested development, floundering-in-your-early-20’s movie. (The Tiny Furniture genre in Portland.)
Even in those early stages, the film works on the strength of its sharp but natural dialogue, affectless delivery by the actors and crisp visual style. Doug gets a job at an ice factory and Gail says what most of us would: “I didn’t even know they had ice factories.”
“Where do you think they get those bags of ice?” Doug asks.
And as Doug and his new friend and co-worker Carlos (Raul Castillo) carry bins of ice from one pile to another, they have the kind of conversation that shapes the film, talking about their dead-end jobs. Carlos doesn’t seem like the brightest, most ambitious guy around, but he suggests he has hidden depths, saying, “I can think and move ice at the same time.”
Doug insists that he never wanted to be a CSI-style detective; he wants to be Sherlock Holmes.
In no time he gets his chance. His ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), visits Portland then disappears, and Doug turns detective to try to find her. He’s old-school, with a pencil and a notebook, breaking codes, trailing suspects, sometimes with Carlos as Watson, sometimes with Gail. The film plays with those amateur detective conventions – Doug is sometimes a shade away from Miss Marple – yet takes the search for Rachel seriously.
The last ten minutes are slower than they should be, but overall Cold Weather grabs you and keeps you with its easy flow. Andrew Reed’s cinematography captures crystal-clear light and every shade of blue imaginable, from the rainy skies to the ice in the factory. And as Gail and Doug close in on a way to solve the case, the film has the spirit of adult siblings playing a childhood game for real.
(Cold Weather opens on Friday and will be on VOD Feb. 9th.)