How I Ended This Summer Review: Cold Shoulders

On General Release Friday 22nd April

Internships can be hard work – the long hours, little or no pay and the nagging feeling that you might never achieve the job which you’re dedicating yourself to is a constant psychological drain. Spare a thought then for Pasha Danilov, a research intern on a remote arctic weather station who has only surly research veteran Sergei for company.

His routine consists of taking daily telemetry readings and relaying them back to base via a rudimentary radio and with very little else to do and even less to look at, he’s understandably more interested in sleeping, playing video games and listening to music at ear-bleeding volume. When Sergei goes on a fishing trip for two days, he leaves Pasha (somewhat foolishly) in charge. But while he’s away Pasha gets word from base of some terrible news – Sergei’s wife and child have been killed in an accident.

As Sergei’s superiors want to speak to him directly, Pasha has to lie in order to cover his absence and when Sergei returns, he simply can’t bring himself to relay the bad news. He’s terrified because he’s already seen Sergei’s hot temper after he missed a read out and has heard stories in which one scientist murdered another over a seemingly minor incident – the bullet hole in the ceiling testament to the installation’s history of violence.

But as time goes by, Pasha has to tell more lies to keep the secret hidden.

Eventually coming clean, Pasha fears Sergei’s reprisal (what rage might possess the man in a state of anger and grief?) and in terror he flees into the night but quickly realises that he won’t last long without food, shelter or warmth.

The relationship between the two leads builds nicely; Sergei’s gruff silences thaw as he regales Pasha with stories of fishing trips with his son and initially it seems like the two are developing a similar father/son relationship.

The acting is superb – Sergei Puskepalis’s taciturn demeanour seems to hold a capacity for barely restrained violence which makes him seem constantly threatening and Grigory Dibrygin’s face has all the exuberance and irresponsibility of youth.

But when things go pear-shaped, Pasha’s flight into the night seems incongruous. It’s even more baffling when Pasha later wolfs down fish like a dog, tearing it apart with his bare hands. The descent into savagery seems too quick and unbelievable, so much so that it almost borders on the unintentionally hilarious and completely undermines the tension that’s been mounting over the previous two acts.

There’s also little background given to the characters – what are they out there measuring? Why is it so important? Why has Pasha decided to come here for the summer anyway? Why does Sergei choose to live in so remote a location away from a family who he loves? The lack of context is a nagging frustration.

While the Arctic landscape is shot beautifully by cinematographer Pavel Kostomarov – time-lapsed snowstorms lit in darkening pastel colours by the fading light which make the scenery seem almost alive; beautifully framed shots of the two men set against the stark landscape – the ennui of the weather station also infects the viewer. Conveying boredom without being boring is a difficult task, and one at which unfortunately HIETS fails – at times, it’s just flat out dull.

It’s a shame because the set up has a great potential for gripping storytelling but the glacial pace and jerky third act undermine the carefully built intrigue of its first half. There’s a great film in here somewhere, but it’s buried deep under the thickening snow.

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