Desperation and greed prove to be a deadly cocktail for several of the characters in Jason R. Goode’s debut feature film Numb. A thriller set in the frigid terrain that is the outskirts of Vancouver, the film’s premise focuses on a couple who cannot seem to dig out of the financial hole they find themselves in. After travelling out of town to accept a new job prospect, unemployed Will (Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber) is devastated to learn that his potential employer has rescinded the job offer due to the financial constraints. Cash-strapped, and with the bank threatening to foreclose his home, Will is too ashamed to tell his wife Dawn (Stefanie von Pfetten) that he once again failed to secure work. As the couple head back to their Vancouver home they happen across a hitchhiking pair of siblings, Lee (Aleks Paunovic) and Cheryl (The 100’s Marie Avgeropoulos), who are clearly unaware of how cold British Columbia can get.
Agreeing to give the seemingly aimless siblings a ride, with intentions of parting ways before they reach Vancouver, Will and Dawn find themselves bound to the pair when fate abruptly changes their plans. While on an isolated road the group encounters an old man suffering from a severe case of hypothermia. Despite their attempt to get him to a hospital, the man dies forcing the foursome to stay overnight in a small town while the police finish their investigation into his death. Stranded for the night, the group discovers that the old man was once a famous bank robber who stole $4 million dollars in rare gold coins. Believing that the GPS coordinates they found on the man point to the missing gold, the foursome agree to venture out into the harsh rural landscape, using what limited resources they have, to find the treasure before the police connect the link between the deceased man and his criminal past.
Aiming to bring grand thrills within the confines of its modest budget, Numb does not always bring the level of chills it strives for. Goode has a lot of strong ideas throughout, but they lack the punch needed to keep the pacing as brisk as it really should be. Obviously it is tough to sustain the tension in a prolonged foot chase when all the parties involved are suffering from various stages of hypothermia. However, the script could have drawn out the sense of uneasiness between the pairs much further. Will and Dawn partner up with Lee and Cheryl so quickly that it dilutes the sinister feelings that the siblings initial appearance evokes.
Fortunately, the film’s minor narrative missteps are made up for in its performances and technical prowess. The ensemble cast is quite good in their respective roles. Stefanie von Pfetten and Aleks Paunovic in particular do a wonderful job of blurring the lines between saint and sinner. It is through their characters that Goode is able to effectively steer this survival thriller into the realm of true horror.
By the time the audience reaches the halfway point, it becomes clear that the real terror is not the distrust that threatens to devour the foursome, but rather Mother Nature herself. Featuring some outstanding makeup by Darci Jackson, whose work really bring out the frostbitten monsters that reside within each character, Goode gets plenty of solid chills from the film’s naturalistic setting. As if an icy vengeful leprechaun, using gold as bait to lure in gluttonous fish, the desolate landscape leaves a haunting impression on viewers.
A solid, even if at times flawed, debut film, Numb displays a lot of promise in Goode as a filmmaker. The film may not consistently keep viewers on the edge of their seats, but it will definitely make audiences think twice about venturing into the woods during the winter.