It's a strong, low-budget, independent Christmas horror film, subtle and odd. It's small-scale, but that's not a flaw. Val Lewton would have liked it.
The first half of the movie has no supernatural elements at all. Emily Blunt is a bitch and Ashton Holmes is a boy who likes her, although you hope he'd think again if he got to know her. Here's an example of how much this lady cares for her fellow humans. It's the Christmas holidays and Holmes offers her a lift back home to Delaware, which will save her a five or six hour bus journey. Blunt has a bag that she wants to put in the car's boot. Holmes has lots of things in there already. Blunt thus takes out some of Holmes's things at random, leaves them on the tarmac and lets him drive off without them, without even trying to make use of the car's back seat.
The nature of the things Blunt abandons will turn out to be funny, though. I laughed at that.
Anyway, this is a woman who'll start a fight with her driver when there's another car driving towards them at night in a snowstorm on a narrow road. She bites Holmes's head off when he's trying to give her potentially life-saving advice. Yeeesh.
The best I can say is that she's not evil, while later on the film does an interesting job of getting inside her head. She's no Cruella de Vil, but she's still obnoxious, selfish and uninterested in trying to be nice. In fact she's enough of a bitch that when she offers Holmes some petrol money, I assumed that the film was forcing her out of character because it wanted to do something with Holmes. However it later turns out (I think) that she has more money than him, so I'll let it go.
Then there's Holmes, who's not very good with girls and it wouldn't be wrong to call him a stalker. He's nice, though. You can tell, because he doesn't bludgeon Blunt to death.
This is a compelling combination. You know how too many horror films have bland, identikit protagonists? Not here. I actually forgot that I was watching a horror movie, because Blunt and Holmes were so interesting that I assumed I was just watching a regular film. Two university students drive home for Christmas. What could be more normal? Even when things go wrong and it starts looking quite likely that they'll be icicles in the morning, it still didn't feel like a horror movie. They're in trouble, sure. Their car's slowly disappearing under the snow. Furthermore one of them's Blunt. (From both of these, you'd run screaming like a madman.) However I assumed that the story was all going to be about Holmes, Blunt and how they were going to get out of this one, or quite possibly not.
Then things got a bit freaky. I hadn't been expecting that, or the other thing, or the even weirder wrinkle that happens afterwards. It's scary, but an unusual kind of scary in that you don't know what you're scared of. I was coming up with bizarre speculations, e.g. are they dead and is this a death vision? Is it tied in with Holmes's mini-lesson about Nietzsche and eternal recurrence? (Answer: quite possibly, although I'd need to think it through.) Holmes is studying Eastern religion, while Blunt studies engineering. Is it a ghost story? (Answer: it would be hard to argue that it wasn't, but it's also not that simple.)
The best word for what's happening, I think, is Fortean. However what it really boils down to is wrongness. There's someone out there! In that weather! They're in the middle of nowhere! Climbing the telegraph pole had me on edge too.
Every so often, the characters would do something that made me frown. The petrol money was a point that needed explanation, for instance. Going out in the snow and leaving the car door open didn't look like a smart idea. Why hide what happened when going to the petrol station? (That last one is particularly bad, since it's a fatal error of judgement.) It's possible to explain all of these points and indeed some of them actually get explained, e.g. the reason why Blunt wasn't screaming at Holmes after the crash. However I don't want to be thinking "is that a hole?" when I watch a film, especially one that's otherwise good.
Christmas score: not much. I'll give it a four, for its snow and for its malevolent use of carols. Possibly surprising fact: its producers include George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh.
Overall, excellent. I liked it from the beginning, but then as it continued, I kept liking it more and more. Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, The Young Victoria, The Adjustment Bureau) and Holmes (A History of Violence
, The Pacific) would have been easily good enough to carry the movie unaided, with no weird stuff, but I'm glad we got that too. It's spooky and subtle in an era when we're accustomed to torture porn and slasher films. It has a peculiar view of the world and it's inviting us to share it. It's elegant. It gets your brain working. You'd think this was an adaptation of a J-horror film, or alternatively a 1940s Val Lewton into which someone had sneakily added colour and cell phones.
It's not a big film, mind you, while I'd also say it's ill-suited to alcohol and noisy audiences. If you're just looking for a laugh, try Attack the Block
. This is just two students in a car in the snow... but snow is good.