Review: A FIRE IN THE COLD SEASON, Crime and Tenderness in the Remote
We're in what I might dare to call a new renaissence of crime thrillers, ones that take their time not only to look at crime, but the various sociopolitical factors that surround it (for me at least that's a good thing). The Fargo tv series, Cold in July, Hap & Leonard, all showcase stories that are far more in-depth and cover more engaging terrain than the genre has in the past. A Fire in the Cold Season is a Canadian entry to the pantheon, and a worthy one. Justin Oakey's sophomore feature is a story that reflects on the real limits and consequences of criminal behaviour in a place just about forgotten by everyone.
In the far reaches of Newfoundland, where few people live and even fewer people bother to think about, Scott (Stephen Oates) scrapes a living as a trapper; one day, he finds a dead body. He sneaks a peek at the man's ID before he contacts the police, and visits the man's pregnant widow, Mona (Michaela Kurimsky), who has troubles of her own. It seems the dead man might have made off with a local crime lord's money, and Cotton (Stephen Lush) and his 'employees' are event sure they believe Keith is really dead. As they start harassing Mona for the money, Scott tries to protect her, and ends up getting himself in over his head.
While it follows a lot of familiar story beats of a man caught up in forces greater than himself, Oakey weaves that into a larger tapestry of the place and time, and the people that inhabit it. We're never really told what exactly are Cotton's criminal activities; it's sufficient to know that, whatever happens in this town, he's in control. Nothing happens fast here, not even crime, and there is time for each scene to have its proper rhythm, as we steeped in the world of these characters: one which offers little hope of escape, where there is both not enough and too much time to think, that loyalties can be swift and strong, or long and quickly abandoned.
Given Newfoundlan's isolated situation, this corner seems even more remote, a place stuck in these ruts despite the natural beauty; cinematographer James Klopko watches with something of a sentimental longing, frequently invaded by the harshness of the situation. There are too many places and shadows to hide in, and the harshest light comes from a flashlight in your eyes, or the neon lights of a bar where you drown your sorrows. This is matched by a minimalist score by Kimmo Helén and Mat McNerney which seems to come from the land and trees.
Oates takes the 'strong silent' type and pushes it to find the hidden parts of someone who wants to do the right thing, but also wants to have a better life, make a better life for someone else, but can't figure out how the game is played. Cotton and those who do their bidding each are given their time in which we see them not just as dangerous criminals (though they are) but as men caught in something they didn't know how they got into, in a place that gives them few options for survival. Kurimsky stands out as a woman neither stupid enough to trust even Scott completely, but vulnerable enough to know she needs some help.
Often eschewing action for contemplation, yet still providing some extremely tense and dangerous situations to keep you on the edge, A Fire in the Cold Season is an impressive thriller with a distinctly Eastern Canadian bent, with plenty of meat on its genre bones.
A Fire in the Cold Season will be release by Game Theory Films on VOD and in select cinemas in Canada on October 2nd.