COLD HELL Review: The Butcher And The Kickboxer

Stefan Ruzowitzky‘s midnight movie hybrid is a thrilling assault on the senses.

There’s a madman stalking the streets of Vienna, skinning women alive and then forcing them to drink boiling cooking oil; a purifying ritual he’s invented to cleanse the filthy Muslim whores he’s sought out in several countries. Basking in the glow of neon hotel rooms straight out of a lost, late period Bava picture, this senseless butcher looms over his victim, a set of tools neatly laid out on the floor behind him. It’s a scene that’s certainly familiar to any cinephile who’s spent a significant amount of time wallowing in Eurosleaze, where men do terrible things to women for our voyeuristic (dis)pleasure. Only this bastard dumps the body in front of the wrong witness – Muslim Thai boxing badass Özge Dogruol (Violetta Schurawlow) – and now he’s in a world of hurt.

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky‘s (Anatomy, Deadfall) latest is a breakneck genre piece that packs roughly three different movies into its relentless ninety minutes. Part scummy neo-giallo, part martial arts/car chase bonanza, part domestic melodrama, an electric current of female empowerment propels the movie toward the finish line without a care if the audience is keeping up with it or not. This is a lot of movie to take in, as Ruzowitzky’s crafting a midnight banger that’s sure to please with a rowdy crowd. Throats are slit, faces are smashed, cars explode, and a new female action star is minted in Schurawlow, who comes off like a live-wire combination of Michelle Rodriguez and Asia Argento. In other words, she is not to be fucked with.

A Turkish immigrant, Özge’s already having a rough go of things even before this maniac realizes that she’s seen him leave that body in a back alley behind her flat. Her immediate family is of no help, as her cousin/best friend is only interested in using Özge as an alibi for her infidelity, and her ex kicks her out of the gym she trains in after she utterly mangles a mocking male challenger. Even the cops scoff at her when she attempts to report the crime to them, unable to take this piece of Turkish trash seriously, and even going as far as to insinuate that maybe she had something to do with the killing. Once her cousin finds herself on the wrong side of this savage’s blade, the warrior must take the girl’s baby in, carting the child around as she goes on the lam.

On top of her personal struggles, Ruozwitzky makes sure to slather a thick layer of institutionalized misogyny onto the world surrounding Özge. Her mother is a prisoner to the decrepit child molester she calls a father, and the male customers she picks up in her cab every night generally treat Özge like shit. In reality, this killer is an extreme avatar for the oppressive forces that seek to keep her and all other Muslim women down. Yet instead of telling her to take that baby to a women’s shelter (where they both “belong”), he wants to cut her heart out to punish her for the hypothetical sins she’s committed. This vision of Vienna is one of wanton cruelty toward its female population, as the generation that’s dying out is giving way to a new wave of pigheaded men, who merely see their better halves as mothers or slaves over a hot stove.

This incessant focus on Özge’s struggles against male domination is what renders her rise up against this bloodthirsty butcher so fist-pumpingly awesome. After being beaten, bloodied and left for dead, the kickboxer decides its time for her to go on the hunt, and teams with one of the detectives investigating the string of dead prostitutes (Tobias Moretti, who’s essentially channeling a young Giancarlo Giannini) to track this animal down. Their search ends in one of the finer final reels in revenge/action cinema this year, as Cold Hell escalates to ludicrous levels of violence, leaving a trail of destruction in Özge’s wake that’s sincerely impressive.

If Ruzowitzky’s movie makes a minor misstep, it’s in its attempts at entangling Özge and her new policeman partner together romantically. Not only does the budding romance somewhat fly in the face of the emboldening thematic through-line that’s been established (with the aid of Martin Ambrosch’s soundly structured script), but also acts as an odd speed bump that doesn’t belong in this freshly paved highway towards righteous vengeance. However, this minor narrative indiscretion is a small price to pay, as even the slight blunder carries a hefty emotional weight (the detective is humanized through his own struggles with an overbearing elder). All in all, Cold Hell is exactly what you want from this sort of late night trash cinema hybrid – it’s a smash and grab assault on the senses, leaving you out of breath and totally exhilarated, hoping to see this heretofore unknown mistress of chaos in a million more movies just like it.