Cold Hell

Die Hoelle
Cold Hell

Seen at Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, Montreal (Canada) Screened at Horrorchannel FrightFest 2017, London (UK) on 26 August 2017

Format: Cinema
Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Writer: Martin Ambrosch
Cast: Violetta Schurawlow, Tobias Moretti, Sammy Sheik, Friedrich von Thun, Verena Altenberger, Robert Palfrader
Original tile: Die Hölle
Austria, Germany 2017
92 mins

Giallo comes to Austria in this super creepy, densely layered and politically/sociologically charged film.

After a long, hard night driving hack on the meaner streets of Vienna, Özge (Violetta Schurawlow) is greeted by a foul odour wafting through her apartment. It’s not like she has an overly sensitive olfactory system, but rather, the stench involves burning flesh, chemicals and plenty of spilled, boiled blood. Yes, she is witness to an especially brutal murder. And the handsome killer (Sammy Sheik) knows she’s seen his face. He knows who she is and he wants her dead. But when he eventually slaughters someone near and dear to our heroine, the tables will turn. Özge, a deadly, rage-infused kickboxer (I kid you not!) wants him dead.

Yes, giallo comes to Austria thanks to director Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters, Anatomy) and screenwriter Martin (The Dark Valley) Ambrosch, who serve up the super creepy, densely layered and politically/sociologically charged Cold Hell, which might be one of the first movies to feature a serial killer with a radical Muslim fetish. Like all good gialli, the plot has its fair share of credibility-strainers, but none of them get in the way of a rollicking good time and, in a strange way, actually add to the movie’s exotic flavour.

Ambrosch’s screenplay is brimming with terrific dollops of humour (nothing tongue-in-cheek, but rooted naturally in the narrative) and he constantly embellishes his writing with nice touches that keep the picture floating above the surface of its genre roots. Most notably, he’s created a compelling lead character with Özge (magnificently rendered by Schurawlow in what must surely be a star-making performance).

Turkish by birth, Austrian by nationality, our heroine lives in a world in which she’s assailed almost constantly with racism, sexism, misogyny, patriarchy and a deep, dark family secret. Not only does she pull long hours as a cabbie, but she attends night school and works out daily in a Muay Thai gym. Not unlike another famous movie loner, she’s got plenty of rage roiling within, but none of Travis Bickle’s psychotic nuttiness. However, when she’s pushed too far, watch out!

Veteran director Ruzowitzky clearly loves Ambrosch’s script and he handles the action, horror and suspense with considerable skill and aplomb. His sense of geography is masterful, there’s absolutely no annoying jerky-jerky and the camera always seems to be exactly where it needs to be, thus allowing for skilful cutting which treats the action dramatically, so that its visceral joys never feel shoehorned and/or machine-tooled (the way far too many moronic studio pictures directed by untalented hacks feel like these days). One drawer-filling set piece after another keeps our eyeballs glued to the screen, including break-neck chase scenes and a bravura sequence on a speeding subway train, which culminates in a glorious explosion of fisticuffs that had a huge audience at Fantasia cheering like a stadium full of soccer fans.

And the ‘cold hell’ of the title is an especially delectable touch – so evil, so chilling. Just thinking about it still gives me the willies. That it’s rooted in the serial killer’s twisted interpretation of the Koran is the stuff great scripts are made of. We need a few more of these, I think. And, of course, directors like Ruzowitzky who know how to make them shine.

Greg Klymkiw