Özge Dogruol (played by Violetta Schurawlow) is a female taxi driver who spends her time putting up with lousy passengers, being an alibi for a lousy friend (Verena Altenberger) who cannot stop cheating on her partner (Robert Palfrader), and letting off steam when she gets a chance to indulge in a bit of Thai boxing. Her life is thrown into turmoil when she witnesses a serial killer standing beside his latest victim. The police don't have enough information to give her any substantial help, although one detective (played by Tobias Moretti) is eventually swayed to help her, just in time for things to go from bad to worse as the killer aims to get rid of Özge.
A fairly simple idea is turned into a bloody fine thriller thanks to the inclusion of imperfect characters that you can care about, some very nasty moments of violence, and a solid foundation of tension that remains even during the comparatively calmer middle section.
Director Stefan Ruzowitzky is great with this kind of material, having previously impressed and entertained me with the enjoyable Anatomy. He seems able to make something feel fresh and lively while avoiding the tricks and flourishes that many other directors might throw in there. And that somehow makes more traditional fare feel a bit more unique when compared to the many other films that pick their favourite toys from the same box, as it were. Writer Martin Ambrosch also deserves praise, having given us one of the best female leads in a thriller that I have seen in some time. Özge is many things, but she constantly does what she can to maintain control of her spiralling situation.
Schurawlow is great in the starring role. She seems to get tougher and more resilient as her character is given progressively worse treatment, and her physical work makes everything easy to believe. Moretti is also very good as the detective who grows to really like her. Sammy Sheik plays the killer, and he's effectively menacing while also capably hiding his true nature whenever he needs to blend into a crowd of normal, non-killing, members of the public. And I should mention the lovely turn from Friedrich von Thun, playing the elderly father of Moretti's character.
There are only two main negatives to mention here. One is the fact that this is a film with great depths to the characters but no real depth to the story. Even for a "serial killer" film, although it's more than just that, it doesn't really add any layers to the cat and mouse plot. Not that it really needs to, but some more stuff to chew on would have been appreciated. Secondly, there are one or two plot contrivances that feel a bit too predictable, and one of the final decisions made by Özge is so dumb that it feels out of character, despite being made in a moment of rage.
Those minor quibbles aside, Cold Hell is an excellent thriller that seems to be getting plenty of positive word of mouth already (which is how it came to my attention). I hope that continues as more people discover it.
Available on Shudder, Cold Hell doesn't seem to have any disc release just now.
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