Cold Meat

Cold Meat (2023)

Cold Meat had its world première on Sun 27th Aug at FrightFest

Cold Meat opens with visions of snow-swept wildernesses, and a voiceover. “When I was a child, my mother told me that humans are capable of the best and the worst,” a woman is heard saying, before relating a native legend, “as old as the mountains of this region”, of a creature – unnamed, but clearly the wendigo – which enters first the dreams and then the body of anyone who has “cannibalised the flesh of their peers.” The prologue ends with a wide shot of a car half-buried in the snow, and a trail of blood visible by its side. Sure enough, director/editor Sébastien Drouin’s feature debut, which he co-wrote with James Kermack and Andrew Desmond, is to be a story of mothers and daughters, of icy trauma, of humanity’s full moral spectrum – and of monstrousness, whether merely metaphorical or entirely literal.

One night in the lead up to the Christmas period, with warnings on the radio of dangerously extreme wintry conditions for the next few days, David (Allen Leech) sets off in his car. Stopping in at The Coffee Cup for a drink and maybe something to eat before he is on his way, he intervenes when waitress Ana (Nina Bergman) is aggressively harassed by her drunken ex Vince (Yan Tual), and despite being physically threatened by this hulking figure, our bespectacled, somewhat nerdish protagonist defuses the situation without so much as leaving his chair or even raising his voice. This hero of the moment is obviously cool, calm and collected under pressure, but when he re-encounters the even more drunk and now vengeful Vince back out on the road, his attempt to shake his pursuer leaves him bogged offroad in a snowy verge, without a mobile signal and far from civilisation. Now David will have to draw on all his resources to survive in the sub-zero temperatures and blizzard-like conditions, not least because there is someone – or something – else out there with him.

Coid Meat sets itself up as one of those survival thrillers whose characters are trapped in very confined spaces, and in extremis – Rodrigo Cortéz’s Buried (2010), Adam Green’s Frozen (2010) or especially Brendan Walsh’s Centigrade (2020). In a sense it remains just that, as we follow David all at once being exposed to the harshest elements and being gradually stripped down to his raw essence. Yet far from being a solo adventure, this takes a dramatic, unexpected turn early on – not unlike David’s vehicle – and will become a tense two-way dialectic on good and evil, recovery and irredeemability.

It also never quite forgets to be the creature feature promised at the beginning, with Drouin, renowned for his visual effects work on Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 (2004), Mathieu Kassovitz’s Babylon A.D. (2008) and Andrew Desmond’s The Sonata (2018), ensuring that the cruellest, most unforgiving aspects of nature – including human nature – come with a nightmarish form. Here, as in John Carpenter’s classic of masculinity in crisis The Thing (1982), for the monster waiting out in the cold, man will prove the warmest place to hide.

strap: Sébastien Drouin’s chilly feature debut traps a man in his car during a cold snap, and gradually exposes him to (his) nature

© Anton Bitel