Dir. Roar Uthaug
AKA Fritt Vilt
A group of friends on a snowboarding excursion in deepest, darkest Jotunheimen are forced to seek refuge in a seemingly abandoned hotel in when one of them breaks their leg. While exploring the building they discover that the hotel was shut down in the Seventies after a series of mysterious disappearances, including that of the owner’s young son. It soon becomes apparent to the group that they are not alone in the hotel; a mysterious psychopath begins to pick them off, one, by one, by one…
While the premise of this expertly crafted and smartly scripted Norwegian slasher flick seems to creak under the weight of its own cliché-ridden conventions, the execution of Cold Prey/Fritt Vilt (pardon the pun), is what is most surprising and unconventional and sets this film well apart from its myriad contemporaries. We open in typical slasher style, with the apparent death of a young boy at the hands of an unseen assailant in the midst of a blizzard. Skip forward twenty-odd years to present day and we’re introduced to the main characters as they make their way through startlingly beautiful snow-covered landscapes on a snowboarding expedition. Of course, once they enter the hotel to seek refuge, this is where the slow-building sense of dread and isolation begins to build to an ever pleasing crescendo and events begin to turn increasingly bloody for our gang.
Supremely creepy atmosphere and location aside, Cold Prey also benefits from having a smart script that consistently subverts expectations. Yes, while it knows that we know the rules of slasher movies verbatim, it doesn’t offer knowing, tongue-in-cheek smugness a la Kevin Williamson, instead, it opts to simply sidestep conventions slyly and play up to them before pulling out the proverbial rug, chucking in a few loving references to the likes of The Shining as it goes – without detracting from the story. The script actually credits the audience with a modicum of intelligence and reveals as much as it needs to as it goes along. In lesser films a flashback shot to Jannicke discovering a bullet while rummaging around in some drawers would be inserted into the narrative when she discovers a gun that isn’t loaded at a pivotal moment…
What Cold Prey also does that is instantly refreshing, is present its audience with a group of well-rounded, genuinely likable characters. It benefits the film immensely that this lot actually have a history, they enjoy each others’ company, care about each other and don’t spend their time squabbling. Even the various ‘types’ they initially appear to be are almost instantly subverted through dialogue and actions. While all the archetypes are present and correct: the jock, the sensible one, the free-spirited one, the horny boyfriend, the joker/comic relief – all of them sidestep pre-conceived notions and, boasted by decent performances courtesy of the very likable cast, become characters we actually care for.
When the group discover they are not alone at the hotel, they do everything they’re supposed to: stick together, try to formulate a reasonable plan, arm themselves and take care of each other. Of course, this does no good, but at least it’s refreshing to see characters use their heads for something other than decapitation gags in a slasher film. While we are given some basic information about the hotel, its previous inhabitants, bloody history and how the killer is connected to it (remember the pre-credits sequence?) – the screenplay (courtesy of Thomas Moldestad, Roar Uthaug and Martin Sundland) remains chilling in the simplicity of the killer's modus operandi, and rather echoes the terrifying anonymity of Michael Myers in the first Halloween. Consistently cranking up the tension, offering us an imposing, seemingly unstoppable killer and boasting a relatable, resourceful and courageous 'final girl' in Jannicke (brilliantly portrayed by Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) – Cold Prey is one of the most compelling, tightly-wound, suspenseful slashers in recent memory. A shining example of what a great slasher film can be.