Welcome to 2024. It’s bleak and cold, about as February as February gets, and the year is already equipped to unsettle us with election primaries right around the corner. To fight the inundation of pundit soundbites and attack ads, I had been diving into the deep end of festive films during my holiday break. I was looking for New Year’s scares when I found 2023’s Snow Falls among a list of titles where New Year’s Eve is a factor and decided to take a chance.
To set the scene a little, the ball had dropped. I was already in bed, hoping Snow Falls would be the movie that would send me to sleep. Based on the overwhelmingly negative reviews, I had a predilection to think it might. I rarely choose a film I’ve never seen to fall asleep to, and I typically do it with movies that I might not watch otherwise. Some of you are likely wondering how I sleep in the accompaniment of slashers and other horror mayhem emanating from a TV on the other side of the room. The answer: soundly. However, every once in a while, one will keep me up because it manages to pull me right in. When a movie can engage and intrigue you enough to want to forgo sleep to find out what happens, you know you have a good one.
With a title that suggests a Hallmark archetypal small town where a city girl is destined to fall in love with a simple blue-collar guy and reviews suggesting I should avoid the film, Snow Falls was not supposed to be anything special. It received a “D” grade from Collider critic Marco Vito Oddo, while Brian Costello of Common Sense Media commented on it as “formulaic,” “cheesy,” and “unsatisfying.” I chose it for my midnight selection in a thematic New Year’s movie night, capping off a trio of films I’d never seen. Bonkers time-warp movie Bloody New Year started it off, while slasher Time’s Up penultimately led up to Snow Falls. Bloody New Year and Time’s Up certainly have their moments, but Snow Falls hit many horror buttons indie films often have trouble with.
I can’t argue that Snow Falls isn’t trope-heavy or that it doesn’t fall into a notable formula, and it’s certainly heavy on the cheese, but I suppose it all depends on whether you might be into that. Snow Falls takes a beloved premise, as six friends head to a remote cabin. Yet, instead of hitting the lake for an Independence Day to remember, the group is celebrating the end of a tumultuous year and embracing the start of a new one. As their hangovers catch up with them on January first, a storm develops over the area, making it impossible for anyone to leave the cabin. Making matters worse, the power goes out, forcing the group to survive without heat or suitable rations. Their getaway suddenly morphs into a fatalistic test in staying awake to avoid hypothermia. Without food, warmth, or sleep, these friends start to get paranoid and violent, suffering from hallucinations and hypothermic shock. As they deconstruct the logic of the world around them, they entertain wild theories, such as the snow being a sentient plague infecting them all like a virus.
Yes, one of the first intrusive thoughts to escape the lips of one of the six individuals slowly going insane in the cabin as they address their predicament is that the snow is evil, and adding alcohol to and consuming the snow the night before has angered the storm outside, consequentially resulting in the group becoming snowed in and electricity deficient. The preposterous notion gets a big laugh, but it may be played a little too seriously. Coming at a critical time in the film, it may very well serve as the tune-out point for many watching Snow Falls, but the scene is supposed to be slightly outlandish. Once the idea is introduced to the rest of the group, it’s immediately dismissed. It only begins to come back around again as the group’s mental capacities wane. The thought gnaws away at them, and most of the group start applying logic to the illogical. That’s where the fear lies in Snow Falls. Every character becomes their own worst enemy as exhaustion and malnutrition drive them into a psychosis of irrational decision-making. Snow Falls finds itself psychologically testing the mettle of its characters, referencing Creepypasta’s Russian Sleep Experiment story, which likely serves as the film’s inspiration.
If you read the last two paragraphs thinking I must’ve lost my mind, I promise you I haven’t. I’m aware of how batsh!t crazy Snow Falls’ premise sounds. But if you’ve ever had to stay up for more than thirty-six hours, you know that your perception of reality starts to get a little strange. According to Healthline.com, after thirty-six hours, memory becomes impaired, and new information can be hard to process. Reaction time decreases, and extreme fatigue can also set in. The symptoms worsen the longer the person avoids sleep. By seventy-two hours, a person’s sense of reality can become so distorted that they could be chasing hallucinations, thinking illogically, and becoming more feral versions of themselves. And this is where director Colton Tran’s minimalistic horror movie shines.
I give Tran a lot of credit here. Snow Falls comes off as a silly little bottleneck thriller where the characters believe the snow is turning their brains to mush, combining the ideas of A Nightmare on Elm Street with a wintery Cabin Fever into a Silent House experience without the mold. Snow Falls embodies many markings of the Covid-inspired films we’ve seen crawl out of the shadow of the pandemic. It preys on our fears of being trapped inside again by utilizing a disguised premise versus what we expect from a quarantined thriller. The film unravels its characters in an isolated place where they’re unable to sleep, the time of day becomes arbitrary, every moment spent in the same room with another person is infuriating, and they can’t trust that the information in their own brains is rational.
As I sat there watching, I couldn’t help but appreciate the portrayal of futility amidst a completely relatable scenario. Not long ago, we were wiping our groceries down with anti-bacterial wipes and watched many people seek out hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin despite multiple warnings about their effects. Snow Falls’ script could easily swerve into the political crosshairs of its viewers, but despite what its audience does or doesn’t believe, people still convinced themselves what they were doing made the most sense. Snow Falls keeps its politics to itself but relays similar observations more subtly, making for a great watch if you’re into inference over absolutes.
When a movie such as Snow Falls comes out and the expectations are “D” grade low, I find that many people often jump on the bandwagon. They either take the position of the film critic who snubbed it or attach warnings to their review when they have an opposing stance. As I scrolled through the movie’s Letterboxd and IMDB reviews the next morning, many rated the film in the one-star range, not offering it much better yet stating it was better than its Letterboxd and IMDB ratings. Let me clear the air. Snow Falls, for me, is a two or two-and-a-half-star film. There are plenty of reasons people wouldn’t like it beyond the fickle objections of its microbudget limitations or little-known cast. Character-wise, there really isn’t a lot of development. There’s the doctor character (Anna Grace Barlow), and then there’s everyone else. But the majority complaint is probably the digital snow effects that often make scenes look a little less jeopardizing than the tension calls for.
Regardless, the dialogue is excellent, the acting is resoundingly better than what is often dished out in these features, and the film sets up a rich, moody, and tense atmosphere. I also believe Snow Falls does a fantastic job of showing the audience who they are. Those of us who put horror films on we’ve never heard of are there for one of two reasons: either they’re looking for a hidden horror gem, or they’ve preconditioned themselves into believing the movie is going to be stupid. While I admit that I didn’t expect much from the feature, I have to consider myself somewhat humbled by the fact I stuck around for the whole thing. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but try not to judge this one by its cover. Give Snow Falls a try while seeing past some of its sillier choices. It’s rough around the edges, but it’s extremely entertaining.
Snow Falls is available to purchase on PVOD.