AFF Review: Below Zero

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Below Zero

AFF 2011 selection Below Zero is almost as much a performance art project as it is a film. Unfortunately, it is not a masterpiece. Writer Signe Olynyk had herself locked inside a meat freezer in an abandoned slaughterhouse in order to write a script about a hack writer who is likewise locked up in the same freezer to write a script. But Below Zero is so meta, it's meta-meta. The writer (Edward Furlong) then spends a week going insane writing a script about a guy trapped in a meat locker.

It's almost as if they were trying to make Inception, except every level of dreaming in this movie is the same (bad) dream. Even better, the film is shot in the very same meat locker. I don't want to be too negative, as the concept is interesting, and the first 80 percent of the movie is well-executed.

The story in Below Zero shifts back and forth between Jack the writer (Furlong) and Frank, the character in the script (also Furlong). Things begin happening in the room while Jack is asleep that mimic his script even as the script anticipates some of those events.

Later, as the lines between Jack's and Frank's points of view begin to blur, the story becomes a muddled mess that doesn't have a clear destination. The madness of a week in isolation takes a toll on Jack, until it is unclear whether you're watching Jack or the script he's writing. In the last 5-10 minutes something happens that is so contrived and so absurd it throws off the tension that has been so carefully built. It's a show-stopper that isn't helped by the utterly predictable ending that follows.

Furlong's acting in this is unremarkable. He spends most of his time pounding on doors and yelling. Slovenly, unkempt and angry, at no point does he ever appear to be anything other than Edward Furlong. Kristin Booth is annoying as hell playing Jack's captor Penny, hired by his agent to keep him in the freezer until he produces a script. This is entirely due to the over-the-top midwestern Fargo style of the character, who snorts instead of laughing at the end of every sentence. As Paige, the victim trapped with Frank in Jack's script (also cleverly titled Below Zero), she is a passable scream queen.

Michael Berryman's performance as Gunnar the serial killer/butcher is the highlight of the movie. Tortured and creepy, you can't pull your eyes off him. He is one of the more compelling villians I've seen in this kind of film. His shambling gait brings to mind a slow-moving zombie. Never angry, shouting or violent, he is just doing what he has to do. If you have the chance to see Below Zero, it's worth checking out for Berryman, in spite of the very weak ending.