DOWNHILL: Not As Profoundly Cringe-worthy As The Original

Opening this evening at a multiplex near us all:

DOWNHILL (Dirs. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, 2020) 

Although the end credits state that it’s “inspired by” the 2014 Swedish dark comedy FORCE MAJEURE, this new Will Ferrell/Julia Louis-Dreyfus vehicle still largely feels like a remake.

The dominant premise is the same: a family on holiday in the French Alps gets shaken up when an avalanche arrives during their lunch at a mountainside restaurant. The avalanche was controlled, and there was no danger, but the wall of snow smoke it created was scary enough to make Ferrell’s husband/father figure character Pete run frantically from the table, leaving his family behind.

This causes an awkward, chilly rift between Pete and Louis-Dreyfus’ Billie, as she can’t seem to get past her spouse’s cowardly behavior. It all comes out when the couple has drinks with one of Pete’s co-workers, Zach (Zach Woods), and his flaky hashtag-loving girlfriend Rosie (Zoë Chao). Billie describes the scene to their young friend’s astonishment and even gets their kids (Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford) to confirm her story when Pete disagrees with her take on the events.

Co-directors and screenwriting partners Faxon and Rash (THE DESCENDANTS, THE WAY WAY BACK), have faithfully recreated many moments from Ruben Östlund’s original, including entire scenes, but made some detours around the material with such tangents as Billie making out with her ski instructor (Giulio Berruti), and Pete making their kids uncomfortable with his aggressive actions on the slopes.

It’s probably accurate to consider DOWNHILL (not a very strong title) an indirect remake of FORCE MAJEURE. Even its ending, while considerably different, still reworks elements from its vastly superior source material. I was disappointed that Faxon and Rash felt that they had to have Louis-Dreyfus make a speech to sum everything up.

It’s often the case that American remakes feel the need to spell everything out instead of showing, and not telling. The characters’ expressions and actions, and the power of the chosen imagery can do so much more than some resolving address at the end.

FORCE MAJEURE, which was often devastating in its take down of delusional masculinity, is certainly the sharper and darker of the two films, but DOWNHILL has its merits in Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus’s performances. Both former Saturday Night Live veterans (from different eras) put in an invested and, at times, an excruciatingly convincing portrayal of a couple in crisis – I’ve felt the same cringes being around couples who are clashing in real life that I felt watching this.

There’s also worth in the film’s cinematography by Danny Cohen (LES MISÉRABLES, ROOM, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS) – possibly the one element that’s equal to the 2014 version in which Fredrik Wenzel did the Director of Photography honors.

DOWNHILL skates over the surface that FORCE MAJEURE cracked and took an icy deep dive into. It’s the Americanized family-friendly version of the acclaimed International hit that won many awards and should definitely be credited as more than just the inspiration here.

My advice is to seek out the original, and then decide whether you want to go DOWNHILL from there.

More later…