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Review: Downhill (2020)

Downhill (2020)

Directed by: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

Premise: An American remake of the Swedish film Force Majeure. A couple (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell) and their children vacation in the Alps. They experience an avalanche scare and in a panic the husband abandons his family. His cowardice hangs over the rest of their vacation.

What Works: Taken unto itself, Downhill is well executed. The film includes some picturesque photography of the mountainous setting and the skiing sequences are impressively staged. The cast do their best with the material, especially Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell as the married couple. This is the kind of cringe-inducing humor that Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell do well and the actors balance the comedy with the drama. The long dialogue scenes in which the couple slides from speaking tensely to openly fighting are credible and play organically. Miranda Otto is also notable in her supporting role as an oversharing resort employee. Otto plays things quite broad but she’s also one of the few elements of Downhill that is distinct from its predecessor.

What Doesn’t: Downhill is virtually a textbook example of the follies of American remakes of foreign films. Remakes are only justified if they do the material differently or better. Downhill fulfills neither requirement. It repeats the story of Force Majeure but the filmmakers cannot replicate—and maybe don’t even understand—what made that film so extraordinary. Despite a few minor alterations, this is largely the same story but with American actors speaking English. Downhill is shot and acted competently but the picture doesn’t improve upon the 2014 film. Instead, it is frequently inferior. One of the outstanding qualities of Force Majeure was its nuance. In the original film, the family tensions built slowly and the father’s humiliation was complex and drawn out. The slower pace allowed the filmmakers of the 2014 picture to get beyond the immediate and obvious surface conflicts and reveal complicated truths about gender roles and family relationships. Downhill possesses none of this. Everything about this movie is obvious and on the surface. The performances, as good as they are, don’t have the room to breathe and the picture is oddly flat. Everyone is mad at the father until they’re not. The remake’s superficiality is most egregious in the ending in which the actors say the quiet parts out loud, spelling out the meaning of the scene and the movie. This demonstrates a lack of faith in the audience that undercuts the movie and makes it a less rewarding experience than its predecessor.

DVD extras: The blu-ray release includes deleted scenes and outtakes, featurettes, and a trailer. 

Bottom Line: Downhill is an unnecessary remake of a much better film. This version is at best redundant with the original picture and it never justifies its own existence. There’s no point in watching this film when Force Majeure is so easily available.

Episode: #816 (September 6, 2020)