Jack, a screenwriter, makes a deal with his agent to fully commit to his writing for 5 days and actually be able to hand over a complete script by the end of this period, something he's been struggling with. The plan is to get locked into a freezer room in an old building, to write a movie about a similar situation - except with a serial killer outside of the freezer room.
As a full-blown (semi-full-blown, actually) fan of Edward Furlong, I often find myself looking around for his recent movies. There are some I desperately seek out, and some I choose to avoid (I can pretty much tell that "The Crow: Wicked Prayer" isn't for me). More often than not I find myself enjoying the ones I do check out. To some degree, at least. I absolutely fell in love with "Jinny & Judy", had a good time with "Dark Reel", and actually even liked Uwe Boll's "Stoic". It's too bad that this actor is being shrugged away as pathetic, and most of his new work remains ignored. Yes, it is quite possible that he HAS passed his "best before" date, and maybe he won't be in another "masterpiece" (or whatever you should call the films that will last for another 50-100 years). But the truth is, most movies you watch are not that great to begin with, so I think you should give Edward Furlong and similar "post-successful" struggling actors a shot once in a while. Just be picky with the titles you check out. "Below Zero" could've gone either way with the story they chose, but I am glad I grabbed it by the balls and just watched it.
Jack is a screenwriter with a serious writer's block, and he decides (together with his agent) to try a unique method. He has the idea of writing a story about someone accidently being locked into a freezer room, and the freezer room belongs to a serial killer who doesn't know he's in there. To do this, Jack goes into a freezer room to stay there for 5 days, in hopes to have a complete script when he comes out. Don't worry, the room is louded with inspirational reading material, a laptop, a micro, food, a slaughtered pig in a corner and a piss-and-shit-bucket. It's gonna be a hoot in there! His story starts to take form by picking up pieces from his day so far, like including the woman who took him to the factory, and her kid who was with her. On their way there they nearly hit a herd of cattle, so in his story the lead character DOES hit them, and he's injured from the crash. He limps away to get some help, ends up in the factory and realizes that there's a killer in there.
"Below Zero" works with a rather cheesy concept, one that might not be all that believable. And then he starts writing a story (which is played out in front of us, with Jack as the lead) that is seemingly typical serial killer/inbred stuff. So naturally I was kinda hesitant towards it for a while. But the key here is not the main concept or the story he writes, but the way it's done. The movie really started getting interesting when I realized we'd also see his rewrites. First we see one version of the script played out, then he forgot a detail (why was someone calling the serial killer?). So he goes back to add that, and we see THAT version played out. This is just a start of something that quickly becomes the most interesting aspect of the movie, and towards the end there are some really meta-scenes, like one where the character (himself) gets handed the script to change what's going on. Or when he and the girl starts discussing the story, while in it, and the scene ending in them just kinda "walking out" of the scene and back into the reality. They're actually really well-planned, and since they're not too frequent it's always interesting when it happens.
The other part of the movie is how he, as the writer, slowly goes crazy. He starts hearing things outside of the room, someone takes his laptop and replaces it with a typewriter when he's asleep, someone has written "HACK" on the mirror, and so on. Later on, he even finds the girl who drove him there hanging in the ceiling (not by a noose, so she's alive). She tells him his agent took her kid and locked her in there, and she'll get the kid back if he manages to finish a good script. So they start working together on it. But is she really in there with him, or is it just another mindtrick?
The movie is having a lot of fun with its concept, and it forces us to think through-out ("Wait, didn't he die? Ohhh, right, they went back and changed the script again!". And it makes fun of a lot of clichés at the same time. But not as a parody, but rather as a help guide would! It executes some poor, typical choices and then goes back to fix it - one example is when Jack decides the story should end with the twist that the Kid is actually the killer, not the weird man (played by Michael Berryman)! And then Jack laughs, thinking he made the best ending ever because that kind of stuff gets sold all the time! I had fun with these things.
The above paragraph is also what will become the weakest aspect of the movie, though. Since the movie works so hard with how the story he is writing should end, and we see a lot of poor endings (that are quite the common endings in horror - I believe she at some point yells "Argh, I hate horror!"), it has itself trapped when it's about to give us OUR ending. Now it can't give us a stupid twist or anything else that all other horror movies have given us. And the movie has packed itself to max with different ideas in our head: we've gone through thinking it's all in his head, that it was all a plan by the agent, that he never went to that freezer room, and so on. It has lead us on many paths but never answered any of them... Which is good, but what will the ending give us!? That's where it fails. First it decides to confuse the hell out of us, and finally ending with something that might not be a terrible idea, but it's certainly not the unique ending we had hoped for. I'm rather forgiving though, since it gave me a fun ride up until then, and their big mistake was trying to be too smart through-out, and that will only lead us to think their ending will be terrific. Which it wouldn't end up being.
The movie is rather low-budget (around $150,000), but it has a strong production. Edward Furlong is great as "Jack the Hack", a grumpy and lazy screenwriter, but also good as the other versions of himself. The same goes for the girl, who plays an even more varied sort of personalities. This movie forces them to go all out in many ways as they are playing comedic, insane, anxious, scared and saddened. Michael Berryman too plays a great role, and maybe one of his most interesting in a while. The filmmakers also make great use of the location - the run-down factory/slaughterhouse. In the "real story", it's very bright and blue-ish, while his script is a lot more dark, with a bit more vibrant colors and shades. Ultimately, it keeps the stories from getting mixed up in eachother (unless they intentionally do that).
It has some decent moments of FX, and a couple of suspense scenes, but it's not enough to keep us interested for that reason. In this one, it's the mind game - the psychological aspect - that keeps us interested until the end. Sometimes messy, sometimes brilliant, and I think it makes for an at least above average horror movie. The fact that the story-within-the-movie manages to hook us in through being equally as well-produced (often that's not the case with these movies) is what saves that part of the movie. I know some people have been annoyed that most of the horror is in a story told within the movie, because "they keep remembering that it's not real". But you are watching a fucking horror movie - WHICH PART OF IT DID YOU THINK WOULD BE REAL!? Sometimes I don't understand people.
I think "Below Zero" is a really fun and interesting horror movie. It won't have you on the edge of your seat, but you're very likely to get involved in trying to create the story too. And towards the end you'll be more and more interested in what Jack's reality is. Overall, I dug this a lot, even though the ending wasn't the most satisfying. It's a good little game, and something different from other movies. I'd personally go for this movie before "Scream" if I wanted to dissect my favorite genre. Also... fuck you all, I'm a Furlong fan!
P.S. I've heard that the writer of "Below Zero", Signe Olynyk, actually did what Jack does - she apparently stayed in a freezer room for a couple of days to write the script. And I think it might even have been the very same place as the shooting location!