Justin Oakey’s A Fire in the Cold Season is an atmospheric and down-to-earth film that follows a reclusive trapper and a mother-to-be as they’re stalked by a group of outlaws.
The strongest aspect of the film is its ambience. Set among the forests and highway towns of central Newfoundland, the film presents a strong, rustic quality to the area through its use of cinematography and sound effects. The film’s environment and mood is so strong that it almost has a personality of its own.
While it is refreshing to see Newfoundland showcased cinematically, the film falls short in a number of ways.
The most glaring of the film’s flaws have to do with its plot. The film has two main storylines: the coming together of its two main characters – Scott (Stephen Oates) and Mona (Michaela Kurimsky) – and the shady dealings of a group of outlaws.
The narrative of Scott and Mona’s relationship is forced. Initially, the pair are drawn together through Scott discovering the dead body of Mona’s late partner in the forest. Out of guilt, he takes it upon himself to care for her.
The setup for their meeting isn’t inherently flawed, but where the film fails is developing Scott and Mona’s relationship organically after their initial encounter. There are a few too many instances where the characters’ behaviour is contrived and contradictory.
This is especially true for Mona, who is established to be understandably wary and standoffish – after all, she has reason to fear for her life. Yet, she all too quickly allows Scott to care for her after a few brief encounters. This, alongside the underdeveloped romantic undertones and unmemorable dialogue, results in an unearned and flat love story.
The portion of the narrative following the criminal machinations of the group of outlaws is generic, at best. The thugs are similarly tied to the death of Mona’s partner in that they have unfinished business, which they cannot afford to let slide.
A lot of the details concerning the outlaws are frustratingly vague and confusing. The type of crime they engage in, for instance, is unclear. Their motivation for hunting down Scott and Mona is nonsensical, to say the least. Initially, it seems as though they’re motivated by money, but then, out of nowhere, it turns into a personal vendetta of some kind, and the confusion of that shift is quite distracting.
Worse yet, the criminals aren’t intimidating. At times, they come across as incompetent. As an audience member, it’s far too easy to turn into a backseat outlaw and logically pick apart the criminals’ strategies and plans. It’s also easy to question why Scott and Mona overcomplicate evading their assailants. For those reasons, the film is a disappointment in terms of its narrative.
All in all, A Fire in the Cold Season is a huge swing and a miss. There is undeniable effort put forward in terms of acting and filmmaking, but the plot undermines most of that hard work and quality.
Published in Volume 75, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 10, 2021)