Directors – Jim Rash, Nat Faxon
Cast – Will Ferrell, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Miranda Otto, Kristofer Hivju
A married couple is forced to reevaluate its relationship after an incident during a ski vacation in Downhill, the English language remake of the Swedish drama Force Majeure. Oscar-winning writer-director duo Jim Rash and Nat Faxon largely follow in the tracks of Ruben Ostlund’s original film, but deviate drastically towards the very end, leaving their film to cascade down a cliff in the process.
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Will Ferrell star as the Stauntons, who in the film’s opening scene arrive with their two teenage sons at an Alpine ski resort. It’s a trip that the family has taken to help Pete (Ferrell) cope with the recent death of his father, sympathy for which Pete never hesitates in gathering. He brings it up at dinner, during random encounters with other travellers, and even in an argument with his wife, Billie.
Watch the Downhill trailer here
After a couple of days on the slopes, the family sits down for lunch at a pretty outdoor restaurant overlooking the grand Alps. Explosions to initiate controlled avalanches can be heard in the distance. While the Stauntons are deciding whether or not to order soup, a particularly loud explosion triggers an avalanche that hurtles straight towards their restaurant. Initially, the diners observe with mild curiosity, assuming it will fizzle out — like most controlled avalanches do — before hitting the town. But the cloud of snow grows larger and the rumbling under their feet becomes more intense. Suddenly, there’s panic as the everyone begins running for cover. Everyone including Pete, who has abandoned his family at the table, left with no option but to cling to each other.
A few moments later, the gust of snow settles down, and Pete sheepishly returns. Billie and their two kids are shaking with fright, too stunned to speak. The decide they’ll have the soup anyway.
But a cold, unspoken resentment lingers between Pete and Billie for the next few hours, until it explodes in one scene when she confronts him with what he has done.
In many ways, Downhill is like a cousin to the recent Anubhav Sinha film Thappad, also about a woman who is forced to reevaluate her marriage after a shameful act by her husband. Both films — and Force Majeure, of course — wonder if a single incident is enough to trigger someone into reconsidering the very foundation their marriage is built upon. Pete’s selfish sprint opens up a whole can of worms that he simply isn’t prepared to clean up.
This image released by Fox Searchlight shows Alex MacQueen, from left, Miranda Otto, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Will Ferrell in a scene from Downhill.
After the confrontation, Billie insists on spending time apart from him, which sends her on an adventure with a handsome ski instructor in one scene, and forces her to have a frank discussion about her own needs and desires in another. Later, when Billie and Pete see a couple of Indian honeymooners giggling about their day, he attempts to overcompensate and grabs her hand, a gesture she gives the Melania Trump treatment.
Downhill, like its brash American protagonists, is far more abrasive about its intentions than the very emotionally reserved Forced Majeure. It has less patience for silences, which the Swedish original absolutely revelled in. The lingering discomfort of that film has been replaced by a rather straightforward approach in this one. While it was quite difficult to empathise with the father in Force Majeure, Will Ferrell has an inherent likability that quells whatever anger you might have towards him.
Downhill’s steadfast feminist streak also seems slightly tacked on and is completely undone by the film’s glaringly awful final moments. And there lies the problem with the remake — Rash and Faxon seem to have misunderstood the point of the original and have given a morally debatable scenario a black-and-white solution.