Set in a perpetually rain swept industrial suburb of Portland, Oregon, Cold Weather tells the story of Doug (Lankenau) a forensics science dropout who returns to his hometown to live with his more responsible older sister, Gail (Dunn). Doug, an awkward sort with a love for detective novels, finds a job working nights at an ice factory (where do you think ice comes from?) where he befriends long time employee and sometime DJ Carlos (Castillo). Soon after Doug’s arrival in town follows the unexpected appearance of his ex-girlfriend, the mysterious Rachel (Robyn Rakoon), but no sooner has Rachel turned up than she has disappeared. Suspecting foul-play Doug, Carlos and Gail must piece together the clues, track down Rachel and uncover the truth about her unexpected visit.
Cold Weather goes about business at a pace that is markedly slower than your average detective drama. Rather than diving headlong into paradox and puzzlement, much of the opening act is given to continuous shots of the bleak Oregon landscape, sparsely punctuated with dialogue. This understated beginning is set to an equally minimalist and heavily percussive soundscape, with many of the sounds having the quality of being struck objects – this creates a sonic aesthetic which perfectly suits the gloomy, industrial landscape. Cold Weather, then, sets location and mood perfectly, and while the location might be foreign to many the mood is certainly one that anyone familiar with the grey scale pallet of the British Isles will recognise – overcast and dreary.
This impressive scene-setting makes the slow start forgiveable and the film does, rather suddenly, jolt into gear around the 30 minute mark when Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel goes missing. This results in what is probably the film’s best scene as Doug and Carlos play detectives in Rachel’s vacant motel room, using various boy-scout style tricks to glean important clues. After this brief flurry of urgency the film cuts forward to the following morning, and from this point it slowly slumps back into the lethargy which characterised the opening 30 minutes.
Cold Weather then, while momentarily showing promise as a detective thriller, is patently not a detective thriller. Katz himself has said that the film was intended to be a story exploring Doug and Gail’s brother-sister relationship, and this is presumably why Gail replaces Carlos as Doug’s ‘Watson’ at around the halfway stage, with Carlos hardly featuring at all after this. This is frustrating not least because Carlos and Doug’s nascent friendship, their amusing dialogue and their amateur sleuthing is a lot more entertaining than what follows – a fairly aimless study of Doug and Gail’s refound sibling relationship. If we are to view this relationship as the film’s main thread, as Katz intends, then the mystery surrounding Rachel’s disappearance becomes a distracting and possibly counterproductive subplot. The film’s character study and detective narrative fit awkwardly together, a problem epitomised by the ending which resolves on Gail and Doug’s relationship, leaving the conclusion of the detective mystery hanging ambiguously and unsatisfyingly in the air.
Cold Weather sets a fantastic mood and has an endearing indie charm about its production and its performances, but it fails to really maintain any momentum. Those seeking the ‘gripping mystery’ or ‘sharp detective thriller’ promised by the film’s misleading poster will be disappointed, and will have to settle for what turns out to be a listless and incomplete subplot. If you are more interested in a low budget, slow paced character study then Cold Weather might be worth checking out, just don’t get too involved in the detective plot because it’s very much a waste of time.