Cold Prey, the 2006 debut feature film from Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (whose excellent film, The Wave, led to his being hired to direct the Tomb Raider reboot), is a paint-by-numbers slasher flick. From beginning to end, there isn’t a moment that won’t be familiar to fans of horror films. And that’s okay. Cold Prey is a case study of the maxim that as long as a film does old ideas well, it’s still a good film.
Cold Prey follows five twenty-somethings who head into the mountains of Norway for a little snowboarding. They’re not interested in hitting the popular slopes, however. These five decide to rough it, finding untouched mountainsides in some place called the Jotunheimen. But, with isolation comes risk. One of the group, poor Morten (Rolf Kristian Larsen), takes a nasty fall and suffers a compound fracture of the leg. With no help nearby, the group is in for a long slog back to civilization. Instead of hoofing it back to where they parked the SUV, the group heads deeper into the mountains. Before the sun sets, they find shelter in the form of an abandoned ski lodge.
It’s a great location. The building is low slung against the weather, and the architectural style is very 1970s. Some expository newspaper articles and the hotel guestbook point to the lodge having been closed for about thirty years, ever since a young guest was lost in the wilderness. The five adventurous snowboarders make themselves at home, starting a generator in the basement and helping themselves to the leavings in the liquor cabinet. Only...they are not alone.
A slasher makes himself known. There being only five members of the main cast, he doesn’t make himself known all that often, but he’s there. It’s heavily hinted that the slasher is the missing child from thirty years earlier. And, he is. It’s not a spoiler letting readers and potential viewers in on this plot point, either. The foreshadowing doesn’t allow for any surprises on that front.
The slasher has our protagonists trapped. They’re in the middle of nowhere with no hope for rescue, dragging along a compatriot with a busted leg. The only hope they do have is confronting the slasher directly, and killing him before he can kill them.
Cold Prey is wonderfully tense. Uthaug showed a very good sense of storytelling. He also used the horror genre to his advantage. By that, I mean the film is packed full of shots where horror veterans will be convinced something is about to happen, only it doesn’t. A character will be standing in front of a mirror or opening a door, and these shots are established in an identical fashion to innumerable horror flicks. A viewer might coil up at these moments, girding themselves for the shock moment sure to come, but then it doesn’t. Uthaug used a century of horror film conditioning against the audience, and it’s all the more effective because so much of this film is familiar. It creates the unexpected where there should be none.
What is a drag, though, is the dubbing. The version that I saw didn’t have the original Norwegian audio track, and that’s a shame. The English dubbing is no good, period. The levels are off, meaning the dialogue never integrates into the film. Rather, it floats above all the other audio and the action on the screen. In addition, the voice actors gave poor readings, making the whole package a distraction. It actually hurts the film. I look forward to someday seeing this with the original audio, as the hack job I saw is a disservice to the viewer, the filmmakers, and the cast members. It’s that bad.
Other than that, Cold Prey is a fine addition to the slasher subgenre of horror. It’s got a great location, a decent villain, protagonists who aren’t that annoying, and plenty of scares. It’s the type of film from a new filmmaker that, despite some flaws, shows there will be more good work coming in the future.