‘Wind Chill’ is a Forgotten, and Terrifying, Christmas Gem

Wind Chill

Wind Chill, for all intents and purposes, accomplished exactly what it was meant to when released back in 2007. Given a limited release in the United States before being dumped into a pile of similar genre shovelware, it had a cool poster and a nice hook, exactly what a mid-tier supernatural offering would need to thrive in both video rental stores and kiosks. Presently, the movie ostensibly yields little appeal beyond a starring role from current A-lister Emily Blunt before she was big. Like George Clooney (Return to Horror High), Julia Roberts (Flatliners), or Jennifer Aniston (Leprechaun), Blunt got some early mileage screaming like the best of them.

Yet, just like the slashers of yesteryear, there’s something distinctly comforting about a mid-budget ghost story. Wind Chill, despite relative obscurity, is one of the best from the mid-aughts. Gregory Jacobs accomplishes a lot with a little, making a kind of winter-bound In Fear (another forgotten gem that needs to be seen).  

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I’ve already highlighted Wind Chill on my list of Christmas ghost stories, though for the uninitiated, it’s worth revisiting the movie’s pretty simple set-up. Emily Blunt stars simply as “Girl,” a young woman at a Pennsylvania college in need of a ride home for the Christmas break. Making use of a rideshare board on campus (Uber didn’t exist at this point), she solicits the help of Ashton Holmes’ “Guy,” a weird chap who seems to know quite a lot about her, even though she knows nothing of him.

Jacobs mines a lot of tension from the perceived uncertainty, with the early beats suggesting Guy as the principal threat. Blunt is remarkable, shifting between antagonism toward Guy’s weird advances while also doing her best to not push him too far. If he is a threat, she’s wary of inciting him. Before the ghosts even arrive, Jacobs has cultivated plenty of uncomfortable terror.

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Guy’s weird behavior continues, including an unsolicited piggyback ride that’s painfully awkward to witness, and midway through their ride, while taking a scenic shortcut no less (never a good idea), Guy swerves to avoid an oncoming car, stalling in a snow ditch along the side of the road. The two squabble some more though quickly make amends. They desperately need to get out of there, and “Girl” especially desperately needs to get to Delaware.

Then, the ghosts arrive. What’s on display here isn’t terribly different than the J-horror impulses that dominated the megaplexes. It’s a sprinkling of The Grudge with some elements of Jim Sonzero’s Pulse remake thrown in for good measure. Still, Jacobs does enough to make it his own. He fully exploits the innate talent of Emily Blunt as she spirals into futile terror, with vague specters walking by her car, appearing and reappearing, all heralded by Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” on the car radio. That alone is worth something. Too often, Christmas horror struggles to license bonafide Christmas music. Instead, they acquiesce to instrumental soundtracks of B-list tracks like “Christmas is a Rootin’, Hootin’ Time.” A ghostly A-plus for Wind Chill having the goods.

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Unfurling like an urban legend by the fireside, Girl discovers more about the history of the road. These include homicidal police officers, dozens of disappearances, and the deaths of several priests. While it’s not necessarily remarkable, it’s ambiguous enough to work. Jacobs gives the audience just enough to make sense of without over-explaining the supernatural mythos at work. It additionally targets that early-aughts sweet spot. It’s glossy, accessible, and suitably spooky, the kind of movie that triggers memories of blind Blockbuster rentals in late December.

Wind Chill isn’t a classic by any means, but not every movie needs to be. Sometimes, good is good enough, especially when the peripheral elements—acting, setting, soundtrack—are effective enough to elevate it above the pack. Wind Chill deserves more credit. In a fairer world, it might have even deserved a genuine theatrical bow. It certainly has the feel and scale of theatrical horror. Unfortunately, it never got that, its legacy left stranded on the side of the road alongside “Girl” and “Guy.” There’s a remarkably easy way to fix that, however. If you’re looking for something to stream this holiday season, Wind Chill is more than worth the investment. It’s a chillingly ooky-spooky good time, a forgotten gem from a forgotten era of horror.

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