Cold Hell (Die Hölle) (2017) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2017]

A female cab-driver in Vienna witnesses the aftermath of her neighbors brutal murder.  As she tries to escape the killer and protect her loved ones, one unlikely person comes to her aid against his own reservations.

Written by Martin Ambrosch and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, Cold Hell takes a brutal start, builds its story and characters and then serves up a brutally violent ending.  It’s another one of the films where the less is known about it going in, the better the surprises will be.  The story develops in an odd way that feels like it gets lost in the middle but after a few meandering bits, it finds its way again and ends in a satisfactory way that fits the story, its character, and what people may expect of its director’s horror outings.  This time, he does not go fully gore, but the violence served up works well in context and the bits of blood and gore are well done and feel organic to the story.

The cast for Cold Hell is led by Violetta Schurawlow as Özge Dogruol who gives an emotionally and physically strong performance.  Her capacities and talent are used to their maximum potential more than once in the film, giving her some physical fights as well as some emotionally-intense scenes to work with.  The film works for her, with her, it gives her a character that does not give up or give in.  She uses this to her advantage, showing a muted range when needed and a loud rage when called for.  She is one of those actresses that call all attention to her in any scenes, no matter what she is doing or who with.  Playing against and with her for a good portion of the film is Tobias Moretti as Detective Christian Steiner.  He gives a performance that balances hers, puts her in the spotlight but also shows that he’s a talented actor who can handle dark and heavy material as well as more delicate scenes.

The film boasts surprisingly few effects considering its director’s previous horror entries, the dead body heavy Anatomie films.  Here the tension and suspense come from the story and from one murder in early in that puts everything into motion and stays in the viewer’s mind as the story advances.  This murder has great special effects Tissi Brandhofer, showing some gore and lots of blood, enough to satisfy most gorehounds from the get-go.  The rest of the film has some blood, but it’s more about the psychological horror lived by the heroine than about the murders themselves.  That being said, it was important that the murder be gruesome if shown as it sets the tone for the entire film.

Cold Hell is a strong psychological horror film that builds tension and uses special effects to their best results to create a fear and stressor for the lead.  The acting is strong and the story goes in directions that are sometimes evident, others not so much.  There are a few frustrating sequences and turns that felt a bit off, but overall the film is enjoyable and has one brutal ending.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 13th to August 2nd.