Life for women can sometimes be hell. Men can be educated on their experiences, told personal stories, and will never truly understand what women often go through, simply for existing. Özge Dogruol (Violetta Schurawlow) has to deal with this every day of her life. As a young Turkish taxi driver in Vienna, her days consist of men verbally abusing her, directly or indirectly. Özge doesn’t take every ass slap, snide comment, or scoff at her gender from each boisterous man that fills her cab. Her face carries the weight of the patriarchal society she has to live and work in. Her only outlet seems to be Thai boxing, and getting to beat up men under the veil of sparring with opponents.
Coming home from another soul-crushing day, she witnesses a murder. Not just a throat-cutting or senseless shooting, but a nude woman being burnt alive. The sharply dressed psychopath murderer also spotted her noticing his crime of passion and thus begins the chase of life-and-death. After her friend Ranya (Verena Altenberger) is murdered by the deranged madman, Özge takes care of her child while being sheltered by a police detective (Tobias Moretti), who teams up with her to stop the serial killer before he makes Özge his next victim.
COLD HELL is a revenge thriller without much new to offer stylistically or literarily. Oscar-winning director Stefan Ruzowitzky makes sure to hit similar beats that every middle-of-the-road revenge film does. It works for what it is, but it didn’t excel like it could have. Özge’s isolation from the world is never displayed like it should be. You see her get emotionally wrecked after Ranya is killed, showing she still has emotions bottled up, but an exploration of her inner turmoil would have made everything hit a little harder.
Making the serial killer an extreme misogynist, opposite of a woman who deals with the harassment of men daily, makes sense for motivation to push the film along. It does have a basic cat-and-mouse narrative, but the small bursts of acceptable action (particularly an excellent fight in a subway station) and a quite interesting leading character help it go over the mark of being just another revenge flick. But there still isn’t enough here to make it shine distinctly from a crowd of similar genre entries.
The visuals are the best part about the film, in that its beauty comes from how rich the decrepit sensory atmosphere is brought forward in the cinematography by Benedict Neuenfels, a la Jeff Cronenweth’s photography in his collaborations with David Fincher. Dark greens and reds mixed with neon scenery are used to illustrate the cold reality that Özge lives in.
Revenge thrillers are easy for audiences to get behind. Revenge is a primal instinct that doesn’t take much to understand, to empathize with, and to muster up a desire for justice. But COLD HELL doesn’t go deeper into those first two categories. Understanding and empathy are easy here, but that never goes beyond giving Özge a basic motive for revenge. Both LADY SNOWBLOOD films and KILL BILL are the obvious woman-led revenge pillars to compare COLD HELL to (Özge even has a yellow and black bomber jacket, alluding to The Bride’s jumpsuit in KILL BILL VOL. 1) and it doesn’t come close to touching those films.
Ruzowitsky does what he needs to with COLD HELL, and thankfully accomplishes it all in only 90 minutes. There’s not enough here to recommend, or to condemn it for existing. It’s a solid and watchable film that will satisfy those in need of a quick tale of vengeance. But don’t go in expecting a revamp of the revenge film.
Tags: Action Film, Austria, Elif Nisa Uyar, Friedrich von Thun, Horror, Martin Ambrosch, Murathan Muslu, Robert Palfrader, Sammy Sheik, Serial Killers, Shudder, Stefan Ruzowitzky, Thriller, Tobias Moretti, Uzbekistan, Verena Altenberger, Vienna, Violetta Schurawlow