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I’m gonna go ahead and declare a winner in this particular race: writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano is the current king of South American horror/thriller cinema. There you go: take it to the track, cause that’s the surest bet you’ll get all day. Across the span of ten full-length films and one short in The ABCs of Death (2012), the Spanish-born Bogliano has been quietly, but expertly, making a name for himself. His efforts appear to be paying dividends, since his most recent feature, Here Comes the Devil (2012), has been widely heralded as a modern-day psychosexual masterpiece and he currently has his English-language debut, Late Phases, scheduled for wide release later this year.

Since we’ve already discussed Here Comes the Devil earlier, I thought it might be a good time to take another look at one of Bogliano’s earlier films: in this case, I decided to go with Cold Sweat (2010), perhaps my favorite film of his (up to this point, at least). To be honest, you can’t really go wrong with any of his films but if you want some pure, undiluted Bogliano, this should hit the spot like a sledgehammer smashing a plate-glass window.

We begin with a news-reel-footage-type intro that manages to pack an extraordinary amount of information into a remarkably small space. To whit, the conflict begins in Argentina back in the ’70s, when the Popular Revolutionary Army (PRA) steals 25 boxes of dynamite from a mining complex in Cordoba. Shortly afterwards, their rival group, the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (AAA), murders several members of a PRA squadron, seizing their weapons, along with the 25 boxes of explosives. The AAA eventually ceased all activity but the boxes of explosives were never found. Smash-cut to the present, in brilliant color, and we’re off to the races.

Our protagonist, Ramon (Facundo Espinosa), has a bit of a problem: it seems that his former girlfriend, Jackie (Camila Velasco), met some hunky blonde guy online and proceeded to kick him to the curb. In order to find out exactly what happened, Ramon uses his new girlfriend, Ali (Marina Glezer), as bait to set up a meeting with the same blonde guy. They end up at a run-down looking tenement building and Ali disappears inside for her scheduled rendezvous. When Ali doesn’t reappear after a reasonable amount of time, however, Ramon begins to get worried and sets off to investigate on his own.

Turns out Ramon was right to worry: as we see, Ali has stumbled into something quite strange and certainly much more hazardous, as she gets captured by a mysterious old man. The old man (I dubbed him Walker, thanks to his walker but the film never actually calls him anything and I’ll be damned if I can actually figure out who the actor is, as great as he is) and his partner, Baxter (Omar Gioiosa), are hold-overs from the old AAA and are, despite their kindly appearances, two of the biggest sons of bitches to walk this earth in some time.

The duo enjoy kidnapping and torturing young people, forcing them to answer riddles and figure out strange coded messages. Their method of choice? Turns out that Walker and Baxter are particularly fond of nitroglycerine: they delight in applying the volatile explosive to their victims and watch as their prey does everything possible to avoid touching, bumping or sweating. As Ali witnesses, one drop is, literally, all it takes to blow an unlucky young woman’s head into a million separate pieces. Walker and Baxter are also really into horrible experiments, as we see from the insane, feral women that are kept locked in the building’s basement.

When Walker and Baxter go off to attend to other business, Ramon is able to get Ali free but refuses to leave until he can also locate Jackie: she may have run out on him, but Ramon is still very much in love with her and can’t leave her to the devices of the insane old terrorists. As Ramon and Ali each set off on their own, one to find an exit and the other to find his former lover, the stakes have never been higher: after all, when all it takes is one drop to blow you sky-high, you tend to be a little overly cautious.

As Ramon and Ali stalk through the house (and are, in turn, stalked), they come upon one horrendous discovery after another. After Ramon successfully locates Jackie, a new wrinkle is introduced: Jackie has been completely slathered in nitro and any sudden move will set her off. As the love triangle grows ever thornier, Ramon and Ali must work together to save Jackie, all while evading the slow-as-molasses but unbelievably dangerous Walker and his hulking partner, Baxter. Unfriendly punks next door…blood-thirsty feral women…stolen dynamite…all this and more greet our intrepid trio as they soon come to discover that the past doesn’t always stay dead and buried…and evil can reappear at any time, in any place.

Here’s the single most important thing to know about Cold Sweat: the film is a complete white-knuckle rollercoaster ride and it doesn’t really let up for the better part of 90 minutes. If you enjoy tense, thrill rides, look no further. There’s a lot of other stuff going on here (the political element, alone, could take up another page or two) but for purposes of this review, let’s get one thing straight: if you’re in the mood for nail-biting, needle-to-the-red excitement, this is your film, right here.

Here’s another thing to note: Cold Sweat is absolutely not a perfect film: in fact, in certain ways, Cold Sweat can be a rather moronic film (the bit where Ramon tries to get help by updating his Facebook page is, to paraphrase the immortal Tap, the very dividing line between clever and stupid). Here’s the thing, though: you really won’t care once you get caught up and the thing starts chugging along like an out-of-control freight-train. And you will get caught up in it, I guarantee.

You see, Bogliano is one of the current undisputed masters of creating and sustaining complete and absolute tension: when he turns the screws, he’s just as invincible as any of the past masters of suspense. There are certain scenes in here (Jackie’s agonizingly slow crab-walk escape from the equally slow but determined Walker; the amazing scene where Jackie constantly bobs up and down in the water, trying to avoid Walker’s acid attack; the scene where Ramon tries to help the nitro-coated Jackie down from the table; the attack of the angry punk rockers) that are so well-made, so perfect, that they deserve to be in a hall-of-fame of some sort. And don’t even get me started on the absolutely wonderful scene where Ramon finally takes down Baxter: shot in slo-mo and equal parts elegant and jaw-dropping, the scene may actually be my single favorite scene in a film…ever. I’m being dead serious, here: as I watched it, I tried to recall if anything else ever provoked that intense a reaction from me and I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything. Perhaps something from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) but it’s gonna take a lot more rumination to ferret it out. Suffice to say that this particular scene is one of the best ever and leave it at that.

Cold Sweat is an amazing thriller made into a classic by its wealth of small details: Ramon’s Sorcerer t-shirt (for those who might not know, Sorcerer (1977) was William Friedkin’s nailbiter about roughnecks trying to move an unstable shipment of nitroglycerin in the jungles of South America)…the undeniable sexuality of the scene where Ramon tries to help Jackie, right down to the numerous close-ups and zooms onto sweaty skin)…the bickering between Walker and Baxter, who may be insane killers but are also elderly men on a budget…the truth behind the blonde guy who first tempted Jackie…the generational conflict between the decidedly old-fashioned Walker and Baxter and the “snot-nosed kids” that they currently hunt…these (and more) are all of the wonderful little details that help make Cold Sweat so special.

Truth be told, there’s very little bad that I can say about Cold Sweat. Yes, the film does occasionally lean towards the silly and/or unbelievable but trust me: you’ll find that impossible to care about once you realize that you’ve spent the last several minutes holding your breath and praying that no one gets blown up. The film looks and sounds fantastic (the discordant, atonal score is definitely a highlight), has a great cast (Walker and Gioiosa are pitch-perfect and, if Espinosa, Glezer and Velasco can sometimes come across as obnoxious, this is perfectly in line with their characters) and a brilliant script. There’s also something undeniably awesome about a modern thriller/horror film that features a pair of elderly guys as its main antagonists: you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else quite like this. While critics and fans, alike, fawned all over Here Comes the Devil, Cold Sweat is the real deal, possessed of none of the stylistic quirks that sometimes turned me off of the other film.

The greatest compliment that I can really pay Cold Sweat is that I wish it were possible to watch the film all over again, with fresh eyes: when you don’t know where the surprises are coming from, it adds a whole new layer to the film. To that end, however, I’ll just need to try to see the film with as many neophytes as possible: if I can’t experience it fresh each time, at least I can live vicariously through those who are seeing it for the first time. So, if you’re gonna give this one a spin, give me a call: I might just be available. All Hail King Bogliano: long may he reign!

 

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