So, I couldn’t seem to get out of Germany. No sooner had I moved on from reviewing LIVING SPACE to the next film, I found it still had me stuck in “Deutschland”. But this time, folks, it’s a very GOOD thing.
Horror fans may or may not be familiar with the name STEFAN RUZOWITZKY. But you might be familiar with his work, from a couple of ‘medical-horror’ themed thrillers that starred RUN, LOLA, RUN’S Franka Potente, ANATOMY and its pretty decent sequel, ANATOMY 2. Well, I haven’t forgotten those two pictures since I first saw them, and anything with his name on it, you can sign me up for. So I am ecstatic to report that his latest effort, COLD HELL (German title: DIE HOLLE), proves that his skill in crafting gripping, unique suspense-dramas is definitely no fluke.
Something of a hybrid of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and KLUTE, COLD HELL features a lady who could definitely apply for “Wonder Woman” status, and probably get instant approval. Ozge Dogruol (a stunning performance from VIOLETTA SCHURAWLOW) is a Turkish-Austrian immigrant who drives a cab at night, for her cousin’s extremely jealous other half, Samir (ROBERT PALFRADER). He actually has reasons to be jealous, as Ranya (VERENA ALTENBERGER) does like to play the field quite a bit, leaving Samir to look after her daughter, Ada (ELIF NISA UYAR), when Ozge’s not doing it.
The other thing Ozge’s doing is devoting her very scarce free time to Muay Thai kickboxing, to help as a steam valve to release all of the rage she’s got bottled up inside. Never respected as a cabbie, as an immigrant or especially as a woman, this poor girl is getting it from all sides. So she tries to endure her job and keep to herself as much as possible. But all of that is about to change.
One night, coming home from a particularly grueling night at work, all of that is instantly forgotten, when she sees into the apartment across from hers in the building…and the dead, naked, mutilated body of the former tenant lying on the floor. And as if things couldn’t get worse from there, the man responsible is still there in the room…and he sees Ozge. From here on in, neither she nor anyone she knows will be safe. Good thing that she’s not the retiring little wallflower that the killer makes a HUGE mistake of taking her for.
Ozge has her hands full, dealing with Samir, with Ada and with her freewheeling cousin, Ranya. But when a case of mistaken identity leads the killer to murder Ranya, that makes things all the more personal for Ozge. Son-of-a-bitch must pay…and she’s out to make that happen, against the advice of the detective working the case, Christian Steiner (a great performance by esteemed Austrian actor TOBIAS MORETTI), who seems at first like every other prejudiced, misogynist, dick-headed German that Ozge’s met. But events and revelations further along in the story prove otherwise, and in that respect, COLD HELL draws even more comparisons to DRAGON TATTOO, but in every positive way I can think of.
With a fantastic script by MARTIN AMBROSCH, Ruzowitzky has been given a gift – actually many gifts, when you count the actor’s stunning performances – and he knows how to run with it. Once the villain of the piece, a Muslim extremist hiding in plain sight named Saeed el Hadary (a viciously arresting turn by SAMMY SHEIK) is uncovered and becomes desperate to escape the police, and also to finish off Ozge, the suspense and action never let up, until the nail-biting finale.
This is, as the ANATOMY films were, one of those cases where after the first few minutes, you don’t even care that you’re reading subtitles. Some things need no translation, and when Ozge finally decides that she’s going to put an end to her cousin’s murderer or die trying, you are on the edge of your seat as you stay with her every step of the way.
One thing I enjoy most about Ruzowitzky’s films is that he never forgets how to flesh out his characters, into people you come to care about. The chemistry in the scenes featuring Schurawlow, Moretti and Detective Steiner’s Alzheimer-afflicted father, Karl, (FRIEDRICH VON THUN) are especially realistic; funny, tragic and touching, sometimes all at once.
MARIUS RUHLAND, who also scored the ANATOMY films for the director, assists here as well and gives the movie a very appropriately ‘noirish’ flavor with some of the themes and motifs. Swiss cinematographer BENEDICT NEUENFELS gives the dark, dank Berlin streets a dense sheen of grime through the rain, reflecting Ozge’s almost Travis Bickle-like POV of her customers and the city in general. (No wonder she needs to do her Muay Thai.)
I cannot say enough good things about this, except that it needs to be seen by anyone who loves a good thriller with a difference, and I mean ASAP. And if you haven’t experienced any of Ruzowitzky’s other work, COLD HELL would be a hell of a good place to start.
For an unconventional thriller, I’m giving this one an unconventional four-and-a-half out of five stars. Plus, the movie’s being presented in part by the Shudder Channel, so if you’re a subscriber, there is no excuse and no reason not to check it out.