If I'm being honest, I tend to avoid found-footage films like the plague. The exhausted sub-genre has majorly ran its course and fresh ideas seem to be more and more impossible to come by. Hell. the last satisfying found footage movie I've experienced was Lilith's Hell, which was released on DVD by Unearthed Films last year. Back in 2017, I did a quick write-up for Fabien Delage’s Cold Ground and ended up checking out the film's trailer. Surprisingly, I found myself drawn to the film's aesthetics, it's rather unique premise, and some fucking gorgeous artwork from Justin Osbourn (below).
Nearly two years passed, and I heard nothing more on the film until Wild Eye Releasing announced that they were distributing it on DVD. Unfortunately, I had to pass on picking it up. Why, you ask? They opted to use some generic cover art in place of Osbourn's phenomenal poster! A few more months pass and I discover this fairly new distributor named TetroVideo, and lo and behold, they'd just released Cold Ground on DVD, Osbourn artwork and all! I sincerely want to thank Antony for providing me with a copy for review!
The film's intro states that in 1976, two filmmakers went to the French/Swiss border and never returned. Their footage has been found and digitally enhanced, 40 years after it was originally shot. Now, we can experience what happened all those years ago…
David (cinematographer/editor Geoffrey Blandin) and Melissa (Gala Besson) are French filmmakers who go to the French/Swiss border to shoot their new feature. They're joined by a group of biologists, including Gunther (makeup FX artist Phillip Schurer) and Blake (Doug Rand), in an investigation regarding multiple cases of animal mutilations in the mountains. They begin their trek into the snowy wilderness, headed for a British research facility named Pine Wood. Yet, once they get there, the scientific team they were supposed to meet have gone missing. The cold and dangerous conditions of the mountain are the least of the team's worries, as the they soon find themselves besieged by ungodly nocturnal creatures.
Cold Ground uses the first half hour of its runtime to set up its story and develop its characters, who are all very likeable and well-acted. We get just enough time with each character to build an emotional bond, making it even more gut-wrenching when certain events take place later on in the film. The cast members were an absolute joy to watch, whether they were showing excitement to go on their expedition or crying in fear, I felt it all. Quite possibly, the best acting in a found footage project since The Blair Witch Project! It's worth mentioning that Cold Ground is a French production, so it jumps back and forth between English and French dialogue, but this never becomes an annoyance, honestly, it's quite clever in its approach.
Where the film truly shines is in its cinematography and sound design. Cold Ground is filmed in a washed-out, grainy style to really sell that '70s vibe, and it works. The retro filtering combined with the first person perspective truly adds to the film's ability to immerse its audience, making it all the more terrifying to witness. The immersion level is raised by the film's magnificent sound design, especially when the mountain's chilling winds are mixed with the terrifying, banshee-like screams echoing in the distance, slowly growing nearer. In addition to atmospheric chills, Cold Ground also has a handful of great jump-scare moments, which are usually unnecessary but that's not the case here.
Serving as producer, writer, and director, Fabien Delage managed take the film's shoestring budget and make the most of it, especially in terms of creature design and special effects. The creatures themselves are insanely effective in spite of the fact that they're never fully captured on screen in a meaningful degree, a common issue when found footage chaos unfolds.The team also showed no reservations in pouring on the gruesome effects, as we're treated to some highly admirable instances of practical gore.
If you're like me and have been long avoiding the found footage genre, do yourself a favor and venture out into the treacherous winter wasteland that is Cold Ground. The film somehow is able to find its own niche amidst a sea of Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity clones. It's a satisfying, cruel and terrifying experience all rolled into one. I look forward to future projects from Fabien Delage and you should too.