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Cold Hell aka Die Holle (Movie Review)

Cold Hell aka Die Holle (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: Ozge (Violetta Schurawlow), a Turkish immigrant living in Vienna, is forced to confront an Islamic-inspired serial killer after witnessing the aftermath of a brutal murder in her apartment complex.

REVIEW: Five years following the aptly-realized if somewhat trampled material in DEAD FALL, Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky has returned to his native Vienna to mount an even better executed account of perhaps even more familiar ground in COLD HELL (DIE HOLLE) – a raw, gritty, unvarnished tale of well-earned vengeance that features an inviolably strong-willed, independent female character sure to incur sympathy, empathy and heartfelt compassion from most to all of its witnesses. With staggeringly realistic eruptions of violence, a topical take on the current European immigration crisis, a ballsy rebuke of the illiberal, misogynistic Islamic treatment of women, COLD HELL is a meaningful mélange of character study and salient social commentary propped under the umbrella of an enthralling crime-thriller. Straight up, you don’t need to wait until hell freezes over to see DIE HOLLE. Do so as soon as the flick drops on Shudder Thursday, March 15th!

Ozge is a young Turskish immigrant dwelling in Vienna, Austria. She drives a taxi during the day, trains as Thai boxer in her off hours. We sense a dire, dreary and difficult life for Ozge, who stoically does all she can to scrape by, often spending time with her promiscuous cousin Ranya (Verena Altenberger) and baby nephew Ada (Elif Nisa Uyar) and her estranged husband Samir (Robert Palfrader). Arriving home from work one night, Ozge stumbles upon the grisly vitiated remains of a human being in her apartment building. Worse, having yet to flee the scene, the murderer sees Ozge’s face, doing so without exposing his to hers. This puts her in a paranoid and precarious position, not sure who to trust, who to avoid, or even how to go about her daily life. The cops all but dismiss the case, as she has no one to rightly identify, with the only real interest in the case taken by a private eye named Christian Steiner (Tobias Moretti). Having to care for is invalid father Karl (Frederich von Thun), Ozge appreciates and empathizes with his plight as well, and the two reciprocate a beautiful bond that proves vital to quashing the killer’s death toll.

It’s a toll that has climbed to eight women in five different countries, mostly Islamic, with one clear motive underpinning all of them. Turns out the killer is bent on teaching Islamic sinners – sexually active women to be exact - a lesson by skinning them alive and pouring scalding hot oil down their throats. This relates to a passage in the Quran, which promises to punish the wicked by making them feel COLD HELL – such intense freezing that it actually begins to burn. Obvious SE7EN parallels won’t go unnoticed, but in the details themselves, I found this murderous motivation to be an arrestingly unique one as it relates to a totally different religion than in Fincher’s masterwork, as well as a truly terrifying one given the veracity of rampant female mistreatment in the Islamic community. This kind of thing happens in real life, lest we forget, which makes it startlingly topical, but it also necessitates Ozge’s ultimate revenge as not just personally righteous, but societally moral. Her stand should represent the larger one that needs to happen in the Islamic world.

Aside from its weighty subtext, the real standout of COLD HELL is the nuanced characterizations of Ozge and the dogged performance given to them by Violetta Schurawlow. Here’s a women that’s been so hardened, so jaded by the life’s raw hand that we truly feel her plight to the point that a mere smile comes off as a much-needed celebration. She only does so two or three times in the film, each one more earned and relief-sighing than the last. Ozge is also a fighter by nature, remember, with the ability to credibly protect herself when needed to. This makes the final showdown with her aggressive assailant 100% believable, not to mention more than impressive in the way she handles herself in tactile, hand to hand fisticuffs. All of this, in conjunction with shockingly realistic, unglamorous stints of graphic violence (including a white-knuckle attack in a driving taxi), amounts to an exultant sense of female empowerment, the kind you shout at your screen in eruptive cheers when Ozge razes and retaliates not only on her personal attacker, but on entire creed of misogyny and female subjugation. Simpler, the movie is far more important than most ruffian revenge tales of its ilk!

Shot with an immediate, hand-held verite style, the streets of Vienna drenched in a neon glow, a weepy jazz score pouring from the background – Ruzowitzky showcases a trained eye and ear for the urban avenues of Austria, lending a palpable sense of a lived-in time and place. There’s nothing phony or overtly artificial to his locations, no fake studio sets, which goes a long way in making the action remain viably buyable. So, while the movie might be reduced to being just another revenge yarn – of which there are countless many – it’s far more about the how Ruzowitzky executes the material than what subgenre the material belongs to begin with. But even that assessment is a bit of a canard, because, given the aforementioned Islamic subplot, I also believe this is a substrata of pious revenge pictures we have not quite seen before either. These distinctions are more than good enough, in addition to a fiercely self-reliant character in Ozge and powerful performance by Schurawlow, to recommend spending a compelling 93 minutes in COLD HELL!

Extra Tidbit: COLD HELL debuts on Shudder Thursday, March 15th.

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