Fantastic Fest Review: COLD HELL Offers A Kick-Ass Heroine And Familiar Themes

Accelerated action and a fierce character dominate COLD HELL.

A serial killer is targeting Muslim prostitutes in this gritty action thriller from Oscar winning director Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters). When a woman, Özge Dogruol (Violetta Schurawlow), witnesses the killer dispose of her neighbor’s body from her flat across the street she becomes his next target. However, Özge is not an easy target. A Turkish immigrant in Vienna, she makes her living as a taxi driver and practices Thai kickboxing at a gym run by her ex-boyfriend. Angry at the world, she expertly takes down any man who dares to cross her and takes pleasure in beating them to a pulp when they underestimate her, which is always. A troubled and abusive past with her family and no protection from the police, given their obvious distaste toward immigrants, leaves her with nowhere to turn.

Cold Hell is a conglomeration of accelerated action and revenge with a touch of melodrama and humor. Schurawlow dominates the movie as Özge whose striking presence, strength, and determination to take down the killer no matter the cost is a thrill to watch. Seeing a woman bruised, bloodied, and tough as nails competently take on a villain is something I’d love to see more on screen. The most exhilarating encounter takes place in a car barreling the wrong way down a one-way street that will have audiences shifting in their seats. The brutal violence, intense action, and mystery killer are sure to attract and please fans of Giallo as well as ’80s action films.

There are some seemingly unnecessary detours into relationship drama that I felt were distracting from Özge’s mission. The only emotional connections that don’t fall flat are with her cousin Ranya (Verena Altenberger) and Ranya’s young daughter Ada (Elif Nisa Uyar). An attempt to convince viewers that she’s fallen for detective Steiner (Tobias Moretti) doesn’t connect on an emotional level, but does work to illustrate a more vulnerable and lonely side to her character. From a female perspective, I’d rather the focus have remained on her kicking ass and taking names.

Similarly, the plot device of past abuse by her father is a familiar theme often used to explain why a woman becomes angry and hardened. But I get that this is an easy path to establish the background and motivations of the character, especially in a story about revenge. Still, I can’t help but question why there always has to be a negative reason that drives a woman into a position of power and strength. There’s a lot of evil in the world to justify anger and aggression from men and women alike. In the future, I’d love to see a fresh perspective for a character like Özge on screen whose narrative isn’t born of being victimized by a man. Regardless, Violetta Schurawlow is fierce in the role and I’m sure we’ll be seeing her again.