French horror film Cold Ground (2017; both French and English dialog, with English subtitles) is an immersive found-footage experience that is oftentimes as chilling as the snowy surrounds in which it is filmed. Set in 1976, it concerns an international group of researchers and journalists investigating and documenting a series of cattle mutilations and missing animals. Writer/director Fabien Delage’s second feature film — following his terrific 2016 faux documentary Fury of the Demon (La Rage du Démon) — may contain some of the tropes common to the found-footage subgenre, but his unique touches and a solid ensemble cast propel this effort to the higher echelons of that class.
Melissa (Gala Besson of Horsehead, 2014) and David (cinematographer/editor Geoffrey Blandin) are a couple who make documentaries together. Their current freelance project takes them to the French-Swiss border, where they meet up with expedition guide Daniel (Fabrice Pierre); American forensic investigator Blake Turner (Doug Rand), who has experience in U.S. cattle mutilation investigations; and scientists Lori-Ann (Maura Tillay) and Günter (Philip Schurer). The party sets off on a three-day trek to meet a scientific team that has lost communication from its base deep in the mountains. As the group journeys further away from civilization, the elements begin to take their toll on its members, and something deadly makes its horrific presence known.
Delage and cinematographer Blandin give Cold Ground a visual aesthetic that is wonderfully authentic to the era in which it is set, with some dirt, watermarks, and graininess adding to a washed-out film stock look. Some nice first-person POV touches add to the grittiness and realism, such as when the camera and team members fall victim to an avalanche. Unfortunately, viewers prone to motion sickness, like this reviewer, will find many of the chase scenes difficult to endure. It’s a common problem with found-footage films, so fair warning to those concerned.
The horror elements of the film are divided between survival horror and creature feature motifs. Kyle Thompson’s practical effects and David Scherer’s special makeup effects are gruesomely effective, including a harrowing scene involving frostbite, and the head of a corpse that recalls treasured shocks reminiscent of Hammer Studios classics and 1970s jump scare reveals.
The ensemble cast is uniformly good, with members giving natural-feeling performances. Besson and Blandin are fully believable in their chemistry as a couple. Delage has created likeable, sympathetic characters, which makes their fates all the more distressing. Extra credit should be given to the entire cast and crew, who worked together on location in below-freezing temperatures for this film.
Cold Ground is currently on the film festival circuit, where it has been picking up a great deal of nominations and awards. Although it may not break a lot of new ground in the found-footage arena, it is an exciting approach with a unique historical take, and it solidifies that Delage is a horror filmmaker with a bright future.