Downhill review: a middle of the road remake

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Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Will Ferrell lead comedy drama Downhill, a remake that falls short of the original.

Earlier this year, when Bong Joon Ho, the director of Parasite, accepted the Golden Globe for best foreign language film he teased the audience by saying ‘Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’ The man very much had a point, as Hollywood has had a long-standing tradition of not watching but instead ‘fixing’ amazing films with subtitles by remaking them in English.  That’s what’s happened here. Downhill is the American remake of writer-director Ruben Östlund’s 2014 film Force Majeure.

Sadly, this isn’t really a case either of the remake enhancing or doing much with the original. Instead, it feels like taking a tasty block of cheese and replacing it with those slices that you put on top of a burger. Downhill would be a fine enough movie on its own, but is dwarfed in comparison to its original.

The films follow the same story. What you’re getting here is a mix of comedy and drama, following a couple’s marriage suffering in the aftermath an avalanche scare during their skiing holiday. The same plot points and beats are there, but crucially the remake lacks the subtlety, depth and nuance that Östlund’s film has.

That’s not to say that Downhill is bad. It’s, simply, fine.

The cast are good value. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is excellent as the mother here – organised to the point of controlling – and Will Ferrell shows of his serious chops once again as the father who is decidedly disengaged with his family. They have a believable rapport, both at the start with their easy and comfortable routine along with when the fractures start to set in within their marriage. They are the plausible every-couple that allow a film like this to work. Their responses seem understandable even if we don’t exactly agree with them and may feel uncomfortable watching them. There are numerous moments throughout where the cringe factor is high, when you know that something awful is about to happen because of one of their decisions, yet there is nothing at all you can do about it.

That’s what Östlund’s films are about, though. Force Majeure and The Square (2017) are satires that ultimately explore just how rubbish people are by examining the human condition when placed under great pressure, revealing then revelling in our fundamental flaws. Watching either of them forces you to face thoughts and reactions that are unmentionable or social unacceptable, lingering long after viewing. Downhill is almost an introduction to this, a beginners guide – a smoother take with less of the sharp edges that rip deeply into our psyche and shatter any illusions we have about ourselves.

Instead we have an adequate comedy-drama, with a side of existential crisis. Just a taste which is nowhere as evocative as it’s European counterpart.

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