“COLDWATER” (Movie Review)
One of the most debilitating aspects of life is frustration, frustration born out of being stuck. In COLDWATER, Brad Lunders (P.J. Boudousqué) is caught at first in a cycle of recreational drug dealing and personal, familial anger, only broken by a tragic event that leads to an even more vicious purgatory in the titular juvenile rehabilitation facility. What follows is a stark, bleak portrait of the wrongheaded aims of violent, military-style rehabilitation, as well as an intimate tale of that inner vexation.
In his feature directorial debut, Vincent Grashaw’s biggest success with COLDWATER is making the film ooze with what it feels like to be violently going nowhere. The film is often efficient in its storytelling, an ultimately deceptive move that heightens just how it hurts to keep ending up in the same spot. That spot is the rural landscape of the Coldwater facility, a place that externalizes Brad’s inner turmoil. Run by a retired colonel and his lackeys (some of whom have graduated from inmate-hood themselves), Coldwater is hellish and uninhibited by outside law enforcement.
This above-the-law attitude is where COLDWATER, the film, is at its most wince-inducing. Grashaw and cinematographer Jayson Crothers shoot the violence and vicious abuse of the boys so point-blank and graphic, much like the teen inmates’ situation, it’s impossible to escape. It turns viewers into inmates themselves, tightening the body and feeling as if violence in turn will be the only way out. This leads to few moments of retribution throughout. Fist fights and flee attempts certainly feel like a welcome breeze in the moment, but as the picture keeps coming back to, they all lead to a familiar end.
Well into Brad’s stay, one case of abuse goes too far and finally gets the eyes of social services on Coldwater. As pressure mounts on the colonel, it so does on Brad. A new arrival is an old friend, forcing Brad to confront what he thought he was letting go. It’s familiar, but remains captivating thanks to the aforementioned cold, brutal aesthetic. It becomes clear only a major shift will change things and when one gets underway, COLDWATER spills into violence that damns all involved, leaving no room for retribution you hoped would come.
COLDWATER’s closes with text damning unregulated rehabilitation facilities across America and their involvement in dozens of teen fatalities. This realistic, grounded perspective of the film transitions from juvie-exploitation heritage to a bit of a procedural, weary epilogue. Thankfully, just prior to the sober, closing text, Grashaw gives over one last time to the throes of a twisty thriller, leaving COLDWATER a satisfying, lasting and chilling experience.
COLDWATER is currently on the festival circuit. Keep up with screenings here.