Downhill (2020) review: it’s cool runnings for this inferior but watchable US remake

American remakes of international features can be a slippery slope but Downhill is a commendable attempt, if lacking the nuance and impact.

Now lets just get it out there right now, if you have seen Ruben Östlund’s 2014 darkly comic tinged drama Force Majeure, you will likely have a tougher time with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s US remake. Force Majeure was an uncompromising and complex look at not just human nature or the flight-or-fight response in times of peril but a raw insight into how our actions can afflict those we love and erode who we are. A challenging tale of survival, rebirth and trial by nature. This remake is, as some might expect, far less subtle in the points it raises and far less lingering in its power but still does have some meat on its bones.

The film sees husband and wife Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), take their two kids on a family skiing vacation in Austria. However, when they are shaken by a seemingly catastrophic event, it shows the cracks in their relationships and indeed in themselves.

Downhill carries overseas, its source material’s key sequence (a little scaled up here), as well as some of that particular film’s narrative strands. Now, as some of these strands are done far more simplistically, it does mean this version loses some of the thought-inviting subtleties and devastating truths of the original but the film does have some strong moments of its own. Here both lead characters are shown to be flawed and the event that shakes the family, shows defects in both people, not just the husband/father, with a very reduced ending that cements this point.

There are still some things to think on and while directors/co-writers Faxon and Rash (who wrote alongside Jesse Armstrong) don’t create a story with anywhere near as much bite or emotional ferocity, the film and its characters are interesting enough to pass the relatively brief running time. The performances start off a tad slow but eventually bloom as the movie goes on, with Ferrell playing it largely straight and doing well with the material, and Louis-Dreyfus carrying her character very strongly. While a supporting cast, made up of “that’s that guy/girl off of” faces do decent work (and there is a fun little cameo from an original co-star).

The snippets of scoring don’t quite flourish but the cinematography is predictably lovely, albeit less experimental than the 2014 film.

Taken on its own merits, Downhill is a fine viewing, and an unusual vehicle for co-stars Ferrell and Dreyfus, that may catch some fans very off guard. Have you not seen the original film, you may be slightly more impressed than this reviewer but even if you have, this isn’t the disaster you might expect, even if it still can’t come close to matching what came before.

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