WindChillA solid exercise in minimalism with fine location work, some decent scares, and extremely good performances by its lead actors.

In years to come this 2007 low budgeter will probably be best remembered as one of the final releases from the late George Clooney/Steven Soderbergh indie production company Section Eight, and as an early showcase for the British starlet Emily Blunt (at the time best known for her supporting role in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA). Also featured are Ashton Holmes, from A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and indie film mainstay Martin Donovan.

Contrary to what its makers seem to believe, WIND CHILL, shot largely on location in British Columbia, is not the first genre movie to take place mostly in a car (that would be Mario Bava’s RABID DOGS/KIDNAPPED), although it still deserves credit for such audacious minimalism.

An attractive college girl, looking to get home for Christmas, accepts a ride from a shifty college boy (no one in this film is named). They end up driving through Delaware on Christmas Eve, with the temperature decreasing rapidly. After an extremely awkward mini-mart stopover the guy decides to leave the freeway and take a side road—a bad idea, as they’re driven off the road by an oncoming car and stranded.

The temperature continues to fall, and the guy and girl are forced to huddle up in order to keep warm. This is especially annoying for her, as she learns that the guy has been stalking her, and arranged the trip as an excuse to get her alone with him for a few hours.

Not that any of this really matters, as there are several ghostly figures afoot, among them a bad cop whose arrival is always announced by the car radio blasting portions of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” And then the boy becomes horribly sick and dies, leaving the girl to face the ghosts on her own.

The best thing about this project are the performances. Emily Blunt is remarkably fine, creating a fully rounded character out of an underwritten role—and affecting a thoroughly convincing East Coast American accent. The alternately creepy and endearing Ashton Holmes is nearly as impressive, so much so that I wish he weren’t killed off so soon.  But as good as Blunt and Holmes are, they’re mired in grade B material. The script is little more than a grab bag of genre clichés with a pretentious angle (no credible reason is ever offered for the lack of names).

However, director Gregory Jacobs works overtime, making good use of the confined setting and surrounding wilderness. A sense of numbing coldness is communicated (mirroring the chilly shooting conditions). Other good things: the low key special effects, the admirably retrained camera work, the color coded flashbacks and the constantly shifting dynamic between the two protagonists, which in the hands of its skilled actors is every bit as gripping as the supernatural shenanigans.

Vital Statistics

Blueprint Pictures/Section Eight

Director: Gregory Jacobs
Producers: Pete Czernin, Graham Broadbent
Screenplay: Joseph Gangemi, Steven Katz
Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
Editing: Lee Percy
Cast: Emily Blunt, Ashton Holmes, Martin Donovan