It may be a little too early for winter, but scary movie season has begun in my personal calendar. This weekend I watched Wind Chill. Although critics weren’t always kind to the movie, and the ending is somewhat predictable, it is one of the more decidedly creepy films I’ve seen recently. Since it is set in Pennsylvania there was a bit of a homey touch to the terror. I have driven on similar roads to that in the movie, during snowstorms, and that is one of life’s true terrors. What makes the movie so frightening is its ambiguity. Put a teenage girl alone with a guy in a car on an isolated road and you’ve already got enough elements to make your spine tingle. It becomes clear that the guy hasn’t been honest with the girl all along (the characters are never given names in the movie) and as they spend the night in the broken-down car reality and nightmare become increasingly difficult to parse. Of course, religion plays a role in the show.
The guy is giving the girl a ride home for the holiday break. He’s been watching her, a little too closely, for some time although she doesn’t know that until it’s too late to turn back. As they fumble for conversation it turns out that he is an “Eastern Religions” major and they met in a philosophy class. This just keeps getting scarier and scarier! After they break down (spoiler alert!) and the ghosts start showing up, we learn that some of them are priests. They had come to this haunted road to give the last rites to some accident victims before freezing to death in the poorly insulated cells in a strange little monastery on the hill (this is Pennsylvania, remember). As the night wears on we find the priests condemning the bad cop to a fiery death before light dawns and the girl finally finds salvation.
Of course, this is a variation of the old urban legend of the teenage couple out parking when something scary happens. Having everything in half-light and through smeary, foggy windows makes it more difficult to perceive what is actually going on. A lying religion major, priests complicit in a deserved fatality accident, and Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence give the film a little intellectual heft among the muted special effects and bleary-eyed confusion as the night goes on. Morality is on trial here. Although not the most profound of films, Wind Chill deserves some credit for bringing religion and horror to the same remote location and having them trade cards in the dark of night.