A 2007 New York Times article by Dennis Lim defined Mumblecore thusly: “Specimens of the genre share a low-key naturalism, low-fi production values and a stream of low-volume chatter often perceived as ineloquence.” All of the above qualifications could be applied to Aaron Katz’s new film, Cold Weather, but it isn’t your average twentysomethings-talking- about-stuff movie. It is a whodunnit thriller whose brilliance lies in its ability to keep you guessing what “kind” of a film you are watching.
Doug is a half-bearded college graduate bumming it on his sister Gail’s couch in Portland, working at an ice factory while he decides what to do with his degree in forensic science. When his ex-girlfriend Rachel comes to town for a visit, things start to get complicated. His coworker, Carlos, is absolutely smitten Rachel, which brings on a wonderfully set up love triangle. Just as you think the two friends might come to blows over the lovely lady in their lives, Rachel goes missing which forces Doug to use the skills he learned at school (and by reading Sherlock Holmes all day). That’s the short of it.
Cold Weather works extremely well as a small, talky romance. It hits every emotional point spot on, and finishes off with a nice moment of realization. There is some absolutely gorgeous photography, provided by Andrew Reed. There is a lovely little scene where Doug and Carlos uphold a conversation while moving boxes of ice. The handheld camera follows the two around with very few cuts. The conversational long take is a go to choice for many low-budget filmmakers and it is often botched, but the movement and the motivation of the entire scene show the steady hand of a powerful visual team. Then there’s that waterfall shot. Before I saw the film, a colleague mentioned “there’s this waterfall shot, you just have to see it”. He was right, and I’ll pass the tip on, but I can’t exactly explain it.
Cris Lankenau, whose deadpan rivals the best of them, keeps things interesting as Doug. Coupling him with Raúl Castillo, who plays Carlos, brings some lovely little sparks. If Cris is playing a Peter Pan trying to find his way as an adult, Raúl is the Toys-R-Us kid who never grew up. Trieste Kelly Dunn rounds out the mystery solving team as Gail. Though she is the closest thing to a voice of reason here, she balances the challenges of playing mother and sister nicely.
This is probably an overstatement, but Cold Weather feels to the Mumblecore movement what Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark was to Dogme 95, which to say it is simultaneously a break and a progression. That Cold Weather works without the thriller plot-line is a testament to Mr. Katz’s wide ranging skills. That it is able to transcend the genre (which isn’t really a genre) proves his creative force as a director. I hope that he has more tricks up his sleeve, but even more-so I hope that other filmmakers see the possibilities for indie cinema that are displayed in this film. The next decade of Mumblecore now has an extremely high bar set for it.