Taxi driver Özge (Violetta Schurawlow) sees the best and worst Vienna has to offer on a nightly basis, but nothing that prepares her for witnessing the grisly aftermath of her neighbor’s murder. She catches a glimpse of the killer (Sammy Sheik) and, unlucky for her, he catches a glimpse as well. Though her life is in great danger, she’s not one to run from a fight. Skilled in Thai boxing, Özge is a formidable opponent who is determined to stop the killer after he murders her close friend Rayna (Verena Altenberger), who he has mistaken for Özge. Aiding Özge in uncovering the killer’s identity is police detective Christian Steiner (Tobias Moretti) who has enough on his hands taking care of his ill father while also keeping Özge from being arrested herself.
Cold Hell from director Stefan Ruzowitzky is an exhilarating work of genre filmmaking. The pacing is impeccable, propelled by Marius Ruhland’s intense score, which will get your heart pumping if the visuals haven’t already. The action doesn’t pull any punches. Expect to feel every hit. The show-stopper, a high-speed fight, is unlike anything seen on screen before. Özge and the killer going at it while careening through the streets of Vienna is a jaw-dropping combination of brutality and creativity. And that’s just at the film’s mid-point. I’m wowed by the physical feats Violetta Schurawlow performs as Özge while also crafting a portrayal of a truly complex character who is sometimes hard to like but very easy to root for.
The film is not without a couple of missteps. Developing Christain Steiner into a love interest for Özge was unnecessary at best. And though the film makes a small effort to distance the killer’s actions from true Muslim faith, the filmmakers didn’t do much to avoid dispel the notion of a savage Islamic fanatic once it’s revealed the killer is targeting prostitutes of Muslim descent that he has deemed unclean. Hopefully the film’s audience is discerning enough to not confuse its intent. That said, with the distinct lack of positive portrayals of Muslims in Western cinema, the characterization might make you wince a little.
A film like Cold Hell is going to play by its own rules and it does so quite impressively. It’s suspenseful, intense, and violent, but still manages to be a crowd-pleaser. The blood and sweat that went into making it are tangible. Try not to get any of it on you.
The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival is a badass genre film festival taking place in Brooklyn, NY October 12-15, 2017.