Written by: James Felix McKenney
Directed by: James Felix McKenney
Starring: Michael Rooker, Blanche Baker, Greg Finley
I like to go fishing. My parents and I, along with my aunt and uncle and two cousins (who were all absolutely crazy about fishing – one of my cousins worked through college at an outfitter store called Gander Mountain and when he left he owed them money) would rent a couple of cabins on White Iron Lake just north of a town called Ely on the northern border of Minnesota (for being a miniscule town that thrived on three months worth of outdoorsy tourism each year, they had a shockingly good used book store too) and spend a week fishing. I'm not an avid sportsman, and I don't own box after box of lures and rack after rack of poles. There are no taxidermied fish adorning my walls or end tables. Hell, I don't even really give a damn if I catch anything on the rare occasions I still go (of course, these days it's more about trying to make sure the kids don't throw their poles in the water casting than even bothering with one of my own). The thing I like most about fishing isn't the fish, it's just bobbing around on the water in a boat and enjoying nature.
Which is why I've never gone ice fishing. The great majority of my job is spent outdoors, and after freezing my ass off 50 hours a week the last thing I want to do is spend what little free time I have sitting on a frozen lake staring at a hole in the ice and trying to remember what it feels like to have functioning fingers.
Ray Pelletier, on the other hand, is about as gung ho an ice fisherman as you will ever meet. He likes to do things old-school, sitting on buckets with a roofless three-sided windbreak to hide behind. None of that pussy full-enclosure space heater shit for him. If your mug of coffee is still lukewarm by lunch time you're doing it wrong. And he insists on bringing his wife Helen, son David, and David's girlfriend Gina along with him to get one last week of quality time before David and Gina graduate medical school and he never sees them again. There's obviously a bit of tension in the family. Ray likes his booze perhaps a little too much. It's never stated explicitly, but it's clear there are, or at least were, some problems with Gina being Asian. There's even a current of unease between Ray and Helen, as though violence had maybe been an issue in the past and although it may not be anymore, it's still a rather imposing elephant in the room. And then you have the typical blue collar sports loving dad being just a little disappointed in his nerdy son, despite the fact that said nerdy son is going to be raking in the cash as a doctor while Ray spent his whole life working his ass off doing labor jobs just to keep his family fed and clothed.
The uneasy peace is disturbed the next day with the arrival of the Amazing Colossal Douchebag Steve Cote and his son, Stevie Junior. They roar out onto the ice in a huge pickup truck, hauling what looks to be some kind of motorcycle or ATV trailer converted into a high-tech fishing cabin, and blaring power metal on the truck's radio at top volume.
Digression time. The band playing is called Gods Of Fire. They sound a bit like Primal Fear, and apparently also did some composing work on the 2005 killer bat movie The Roost, which was also produced by James McKenney and Larry Fessenden (a name I'm always pleased to see in the credits of a movie I'm watching). Some time passes before we see Cote up close, and even longer before we discover their names and that Stevie Junior is his son. The two actors look fairly close in age, and that coupled with their behavior initially had me thinking they were a couple of stupid frat guys, who, if they were listening to metal, would be listening to some horrible As I Lay Whining or Every Time I Cry clone and not a band whose main source of inspiration would appear to be Judas Priest's Painkiller album. When we do finally meet the Cotes properly, Steve is a puffed up, swinging dick, ignorant, rich neo-conservative, who I suppose would be just about the right age to have grown up with that type of music.
Anyway, after a bit of territorial leg-lifting alpha male behavior, Ray and his family are invited back to Steve's...I hesitate to call something with a flatscreen HD TV and a full kitchen a shack, and the term, “man cave” makes me want to shoot every executive of the Spike TV channel. Fortress of Fishin' Dudes. All throughout the day, both groups have caught sight of something far bigger than any natural inhabitant of a North American lake swimming just below the ice, and indeed one of Ray's lines snagged it briefly during the two family's first meeting, but the line broke and it got away. Steve's tiny penis finds this state of affairs completely unacceptable, and has Stevie Junior carving out a huge hole in the ice with a power auger guaranteed to scare away all the fish that his roaring truck, snowmobiles, and blasting stereo may have missed. The mysterious creature has different plans, and drags Stevie Junior into the hole. They manage to pull him out of the water, but not before the thing gashed his arm wide open and apparently injected some kind of venom that occasionally causes him to see with the blurry orange vision that has accompanied all the creature's POV shots.
Soon it becomes clear that whatever has been lurking beneath the ice is a hell of a lot smarter than any fish, no matter how big, has a right to be. It's also not confined to the water...
This movie was listed under Creature Features on Netflix, so I knew it was a monster movie, but you don't expect a movie called Hypothermia to turn out to be a gill man flick. It's also a really good movie, right until the gill man shows up. All that stuff I said about the Pelletier family earlier is almost entirely implied from tones of voice, uncomfortable silences, and loaded looks during a couple of scenes at the beginning of the movie. The acting is brilliantly nuanced and is full of multi-layered meaning that is as clear as day without belaboring the point. The tension is also handled very skillfully by McKenney, building the atmosphere to a great crescendo that, unfortunately, culminates with us seeing the sorry-ass monster.
I can forgive a lot of shit for a cool monster. It's a lot harder to forgive a shitty monster for completely derailing what was, up until its arrival, a very effective horror flick. It looks like they just stuck a dude in a wet suit, got a Halloween mask of the bullshit redesigned Silurians from the 2010 series of Doctor Who, glued some extra fins and teeth on, and called it good. Every time I saw the thing, I kept hearing Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane yelling at the FX crew, “PAUL BLAISDELL BUILT THIS IN A CAVE! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS!” It seems like the McKenney knew his monster sucked too. There is a lot of effort made to keep it obscured as much as possible, but we get way too many good looks at it, and after its appearance all the tension whooshes out of the movie like a tire with a nail in it. And that ending. Not since Star Crystal has a monster flick made me want to yell, “Oh, fuck you, movie!” and punt the damn thing into the street. Except I watched it streaming on Netflix, so all I could do was give it a bad rating and push the DELETE button really hard.