SXSW FILM 2013
By Don Simpson | March 24, 2013
Director: Vincent Grashaw
Writers: Vincent Grashaw, Mark Penney
Starring: P.J. Boudousqué, James C. Burns, Chris Petrovski, Octavius J. Johnson, Nicholas Bateman, Stephanie Simbari, Mackenzie Sidwell Graff, Clayton LaDue, Tommy Nash, Scott MacArthur, Zach Selwyn, Raquel Gardner, Douglas Bennett, Josh Kelling, Chauncey Leopardi, Jesse Saler, Michael Rousselet, Brandon Bilotta, Richard Shermer
Brad (P.J. Boudousqué) is a troubled teenager who is abducted from his home in the middle of the night — but, don’t worry, his mother (Raquel Gardner) has given her consent. He is driven in a van to a reform facility located in the middle of the wilderness. At least 20 miles of harsh terrain away from the nearest town, Brad and his cohorts are completely cut off from society, one of many tactics used by the Coldwater facility to break the spirits of the inmates.
Colonel Frank Reichert (James C. Burns) runs a strict military-like operation, with no room for sympathy or compassion. Fear of punishment is the main motivator in forcing the inmates to conform with society’s rules; but, because of blind trust, the Colonel is unaware of just how horrendous the punishments rendered by the Coldwater counselors can be. While the Colonel wrestles with his own personal demons, he barely notices the rapid decay of morality at Coldwater. Some inmates are seriously injured, others are killed. The situation spirals out of control and Brad tries to find a way to not go down with the ship.
Just as the Colonel’s loneliness and seclusion destines him to be tortured by the memories of his familiar past, Brad is forced to confront the horrors of his past while stuck inside Coldwater. Both men cannot change their histories, but they have the opportunity to improve their futures. The Colonel assumes that he is redeeming himself by saving the Coldwater inmates from lives of crime and violence; while Brad learns the importance of maturity and facing the consequences of his decisions. It is a neat narrative trick that writer-director Vincent Grashaw defies defining either of these characters as “good” or “bad”; instead, he allows their present situations to mirror each other. All the while, the two characters form a surrogate father-son bond in an attempt to fill the voids that have delivered them to where they are today.
Grashaw’s directorial debut delves deeply into the horrors of youth correction facilities that rely more on torture than rehabilitation. With no accountability or oversight, Coldwater’s counselors perpetuate the same cycle of violence that they endured when they were inmates. That’s right, the Colonel’s staff is made up of inmates who eventually gained enough trust to become counselors at the facility. The environment at Coldwater is not all that different than Lord of the Flies. It is a power struggle between men and boys who know no other form of control than fear and violence. The counselors and inmates have devolved into a brutally savage state of being.
Coldwater is an assured production with gorgeous cinematography (Jayson Crothers) and production design (Geoff Flint). Grashaw clearly did a lot of research into the subject of juvenile correction facilities and is therefore able to provide us with a series of very believable scenarios, no matter how gruesomely absurd. The emotional intensity of Coldwater really benefits from Grashaw’s unabashed naturalism. I do have some concerns with the expository nature of the flashbacks, though. I feel like some of the backstory elements might be revealed a bit too early, while other elements might have been more effective if left up to our imagination. Then again, I have always been a less-is-more kind of guy when it comes to storytelling…
This is truly a film of great performances, especially by James C. Burns, Chris Petrovski and Octavius J. Johnson. In the end, though, this is P.J. Boudousqué’s film. A cinematic debut that is sure to attract the attention of casting agents aplenty, Boudousqué handles the emotionally dark subject matter with an eerie sense of quietness. As Coldwater showcases the inability of teenagers to communicate their thoughts and feelings, Boudousqué truly embodies this theme. There is a certain something about Boudousqué’s performance that reminds me of Ryan Gosling’s performance in Drive (and I cannot think of much higher accolades than that!). Without Boudousqué or Gosling ever telling us what is going on in their minds, we know that something is festering deep down inside of them. On the surface, their characters may seem like nice wholesome guys with boyish charms and good looks; we would never guess that they are hiding their violent tendencies, that is until we witness that firsthand.
(Also check out our SXSW interview with Vincent Grashaw, P.J. Boudousqué and James C. Burns.)