Movie Review: Below Zero / Cert: TBC / Director: Justin Thomas Ostensen/ Screenplay: Signe Olynyk / Starring: Edward Furlong, Michael Berryman, Kristin Booth / US Release Date: Out Now (DVD) / UK Release Date: TBC (one off screening at Grimmfest, October 7th)
Jack (Furlong, Terminator 2) is a screenwriter at his wit's end; a bad case of writer's block has forced his agent to drastic measures. He is sent to an isolated Canadian town to meet Penny (Booth) who will then lock him in a large meat locker until he comes up with the perfect screenplay for a new horror film about a man trapped in a freezer. This 'method writing' is not just a gimmick for Jack, as he finds out that if he fails to come up with the goods in five days, his career is toast. Almost as soon as the door is slammed on him he regrets the decision, and as he begins to write, he visualises the film – and this is what we see, film within a film style. His main character, Frank (also Furlong) is involved in a car accident and stumbles upon not only a slaughterhouse, but a menacing butcher, Gunnar (the ever distinctive and wonderful Berryman, The Hills Have Eyes) chopping up a body. A girl is hanging from a hook in the freezer (Booth, again) and Frank tries to get them both to safety.
As the film slips between each narrative, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur, and Jack (and the viewer) cannot be sure what will happen next, nor what is real or fiction.
Meta cinema is becoming quite commonplace, and on paper this could sound like just another run of the mill slasher horror, but there's enough interesting touches here to keep it both fresh and surprising. Furlong is better than he has ever been, especially when the character becomes more and more unhinged. Booth has all the best lines, especially early on, and is very likeable. The story within a story elements have a grindhouse feel, complete with film scratches and over saturated colours. This contrasts well to the coldness of the 'reality' scenes, and eases you into the split narrative. Apparently, Signe Olynyk was herself locked in a meat freezer while writing the screenplay. You don't get much more meta than that. The end result is almost 'Adaptation Death Trap Massacre', although don't expect it to be too visceral, as it's quite restrained in the gore stakes. It's more about the creation and mutation of the standard tropes than a straightforward run through, and is all the more enjoyable for it. It takes a more subtle approach to subverting the genre than the likes of Scream, and director Ostensen gets the perfect look for the horror film sections, and it certainly doesn't have a low budget feel to it. It just may be a little too 'out there' for mainstream audiences, but genre fans should enjoy.
Below Zero will be having it's UK première at Manchester's Grimmfest on Sunday 7th October, with, it is hoped, a Q&A and talk from writer Olynyk and producer Bob Shultz.
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10