It is inarguably the genre film that keeps the film industry in business. From the romantic comedy that sees two mismatched individuals find true love to the horror flick that witnesses some supernatural force wreak havoc on unsuspecting normies, the conventions of genre storytelling may be a tad predictable, but it’s really the journey that keeps tickets selling and popcorn popping.
But lest I begin to sound too derogatory in my analysis of genre cinema, I can assure you my intent is the complete opposite. Genre can be as comforting and familiar as a Big Mac, but can still find ways to surprise audiences by dressing up familiar tales in new settings and ideas. Enter Dene filmmaker Kelvin Redver’s debut feature Cold Road.
Somewhere in Canada’s far north, Indigenous urbanite Tracy (Roseanne Supernault) is enroute to her home reserve to bid farewell to her terminal mother (Lisa Pantherbone) before she expires. With her faithful dog Pretzel in tow to keep her company (and bounce exposition off of), she feels like a real fish out of water on her own territory, having actively found excuses to avoid coming home for many years. It’s certainly not an easy trip, with hundreds of kilometers of icy highway, limited stops for gas, bad weather rolling in as the sun rapidly sets, and even a literal frozen lake to cross.
But the trip gets a whole lot harder when an unfortunate road rage incident with a mysterious big rig driver spirals into a deadly cat-and-mouse game that even Mad Max would tap out of. As the truck continuously tries to run her off the road, it soon becomes apparent that the madman behind the wheel has been responsible for all manner of recent accidents on the remote local roads, collecting “trophies” from his mostly Indigenous victims. Tracy is hopelessly alone in this fight, with fading cell coverage, apathetic locals and skeptical law enforcement all working against her. But for what she lacks in horsepower, Tracy makes up for in local knowledge that may make the difference between making it home or ending up as another trophy for this mysterious maniac.
This deceptively simple story may seem reminiscent of Spielberg’s own debut feature Duel (and certainly draws heavy inspiration from it), but Redver’s tight screenplay has more on its mind than highway carnage. Tracy is an avatar for the missing and murdered Indigenous Women in Canada whose disappearances have been largely overlooked by law enforcement and mainstream society. Tracy’s pleas fall on deaf ears, forcing her to be resourceful beyond her means. But it’s the territory she previously disdained that ultimately comes to her rescue as she slowly turns the tables on her tormentor (no spoilers!).
In a cast populated with bit parts and a mostly-offscreen antagonist, Supernault is left to do most of the heavy lifting in this script, a task she manages with aplomb. The film also gets a lot of mileage from its commitment to accomplishing as much of its on screen mayhem with practical stunt work as possible. Not an easy feat given the harsh winter conditions the film was clearly shot in and the final product is all the better for it.
Cold Road accelerates beyond its genre roots to deliver a crowd-pleasing thriller and a heady piece of cinema. Highly recommended (and perhaps consider pairing with Liam Neeson’s The Ice Road).
Cold Road will be theatrically released in Canada on Jan 26