Here’s the thing: remakes are always a gamble and remakes of foreign language films (or films in non-English language) are even more of a coin toss. Sometimes you get an A Bigger Splash (a loose remake of La Piscine from the 60s) or The Departed (a remake of Hong Kong's Infernal Affairs.) and sometimes you end up with a Downhill.
An adaptation of Ruben Östlund’s dark comedy slash psychodrama Force Majeure (2014), Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s perfunctory Downhill plays like a watered-down version of the original. The directing duo omitted many of the elements that made the simplistic premise of the film distressingly complex and layered.
Östlund’s intense shots of the couple in the bathroom, laced with a violent snowstorm and anxiety-inducing Antonio Vivaldi’s Summer; the flickering red dots pinpointing danger zones; and the swinging metal cable of the chairlift — the allegory of marriage hanging on a thread — are all shaved off.
Faxon and Rash’s reimagination, or the lack thereof, is heavy-handed and constantly cutting corners. It makes light of the source material that begs the question of how would you feel when the person you love leaves you to die? Or what if you're the one leaving?
In Downhill, Peter (Will Ferrell) and Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), along with their two boys, head up to the Austrian Alps for a memorable ski vacation, though the stilted family dynamic is apparent from the get-go. Maybe that's what this is all about: family trying to reconnect with one another.
But Peter’s miscalculation is not one that could easily be swept under the rug and it continues to snowball. From the non-child-friendly resort hotel he leases to the replaying of mundane activities—the kids watching television and him scrolling on social media—this trip is not all it’s cracked up to be.
This is, of course, until something else did—literally. An explosion over the mountain that signals a routine snow-maintenance procedure leaves the quartet gaping at the sighting of clouds of snow rolling down the slopes. Billie is visibly shaken but Peter somehow manages to reassure her that it’s a controlled avalanche.
Much to their horror, the “controlled avalanche” isn’t that controlled after all. As the white smoke charges towards the outdoor restaurant and the dining skiers start fleeing the scene in a wild stampede, Peter taps into his survival mode and abandons Billie and their two sons, grabbing only his cellphone to safety.
The dust gradually settles and as Billie eases her grip on her two sons and shakes off the slush, Peter returns. A deafening silence ensues and Louis-Dreyfus delivers a solid turn from then onwards as the matriarch that’s simultaneously distraught and damned to be the glue that keeps everyone together.
Things, however, take a turn for the worse as Peter fabricates his own recounting of the event, an attempt to mask the guilt that’s eating away at him, implicating that he’s actually gone to get help. This tug of war squabble, albeit feels contrived, ends on a high with Dreyfus’ volcanic monologue.
An unspoken tension keeps building throughout the second and third acts, with every effort made by Peter to erase the incident further underscoring his split-second cowardice. As Billie reevaluates her marriage, the audience will be compelled to do the same.
And while Downhill lacks the nuance of Force Majeure, it still makes a watchable flick that at the very least probes on the theme of heroism and whether or not we, just like Billie, should reconsider the optics.
Downhill opens exclusively in GSC theatres on 27th February 2020.