Cold Comfort

Available on DVD - Region 2 encoding (Europe, Middle East, South Africa and Japan)

Cold ComfortReview by Lillian Feden

Warning: This movie is not for the more sensitive viewers. It's a deeply disturbing picture of depraved behavior, violence and mental illness. If you prefer to see Paul Gross as the morally upright, clean-living, polite Mountie and dislike swearing or physical abuse, then you'd be advised to skip this movie altogether. But you'd be missing some wonderful performances.

Stephen Miller (Paul Gross) is a "traveling salesman," who ends up in a nightmare straight out of Stephen King's Misery. During a severe snowstorm Stephen drives his car into a ditch and is "rescued" by Floyd Lucas, who takes him home as a birthday present for his daughter Dolores. The relationship between father and daughter is a sick one, but though the daughter displays some questionable behavior for normal society, one gets the impression that she doesn't know any better.

Dolores (Margaret Langrick) is an 18-year old with no experience in the real world. All she knows about the world is what she's learned from television. She reminds me of a child showing off for a favorite adult when she asks Stephen about his girlfriends, then asks if any of them can put both their legs behind their heads like she can. Completely unashamed of her body, she takes a bath in front of her embarrassed, "patient" who can't help but steal glances. Performing a strip-tease for her father and this stranger is "fun."

Maury Chaykin plays Floyd as an unpredictable powder-keg, ready to explode without warning at the slightest or even no provocation. He appears to be in love with his daughter, and though he brings Stephen home as her "present," and tells her to "unwrap it," he's intensely, violently jealous of this handsome, half-frozen, young man. He cheers his daughter on during her strip tease, watching Stephen's reaction, then explodes in deadly fury, threatening to kill Stephen for looking at his daughter. Just as quickly, as Stephen cowers in the corner and Dolores hides in her bed, he extols the virtue of Dolores' breasts. Stephen tries to run away, trekking through the woods when he can't find the car keys. This is one nit I'm going to pick. Why would he, a stranger in those parts and a "city boy" at that, head out through the woods when there's a road right there and there's a chance a vehicle will pass by?

Stephen and Floyd arm wrestleAs Stephen Miller, Paul Gross displays a wide range of emotions and personas, from sweet-talking salesman to desperate prisoner trying to make a deal with an insane man. In the arm-wrestling match at the birthday celebration, you can see in Stephen's eyes the moment when he realizes that Floyd is a dangerous man. He's angry with Dolores and lashes out at her in frustration when he needs medical attention, only to turn around and comfort her as she cries, losing his opportunity to escape before Floyd comes home. You can hear the desperation in his voice when he finds himself chained to the wall, making his threats to tear the cabin down and burn it piece by piece impotent. Watching Floyd and Dolores pack their belongings to leave the cabin, he sits there in hopeless resignation at being left chained alone, knowing he will probably die. As Floyd drives himself and his daughter away we see Stephen frantically, tearfully, sawing at the heavy chain with a tiny hacksaw. This scene is riveting and heart-breaking, with no words spoken.

Maury Chaykin is chilling and heartless as Floyd. One has to wonder, is Dolores his real daughter? What happened to her mother? Why would her mother have a black corset, black stockings and spike heels in such an isolated area?

Margaret Langrick gives Dolores an innocent air, full of child-like playfulness and curiosity with a touch of sensuality.

The scenery is stark, the music simple and haunting, conveying a feeling of isolation.

Yes, it's a disturbing movie, but the performances by the main characters are compelling.

Review by Carole Gordon

Stephen caught in Floyd's bear trapBased on a play by James Garrard, Cold Comfort is a disturbing portrait of a father-daughter relationship and the destructive effect a third party has on their lives.

Darkly bizarre and not entirely easy to watch, this psychological drama begins almost as a black comedy. Floyd Lucas (Maury Chaykin) seems to be the stereotypical local rogue, living by petty theft, scavenging and towing drivers out of trenches. And this is what he wants people to think. But this idea rapidly disintegrates for the viewer after Floyd rescues smarmy salesman Stephen Miller (Paul Gross) from a ditch during a blizzard and takes him home to his isolated, run-down house as a birthday present for his daughter, Dolores (Margaret Langrick). Without realising it, Floyd has instigated his own destruction with Stephen the catalyst for his descent into psychosis, just as the blizzard is the event which changes Stephen's life.

Dolores, 18 (but "kept at 16" by her father who also refers to her as a 13 year old at one point) has experienced the world almost entirely through the medium of television. She is excited and surprised by her unusual "birthday present" but not at all fazed by her father's not even semi-joking suggestion that if Stephen doesn't like her he'd "feed him to the dogs". She has clearly known no other moral code and the sales rep is more or less just another pet.

Catastrophically for them all, Floyd soon realises his mistake in bringing Stephen into his home, believing that he is losing his daughter to the other man. At a bizarre birthday celebration, which starts out as a children's party but ends with Dolores performing an erotic striptease for the two men, while dressed in her mother's clothes, the hints of incest earlier alluded to become more blatant. And Stephen realises that his instinctive negative reaction to Floyd's comment, "I couldn't just let you walk out of here" was right on the button. Except that he could not have anticipated that he would end up beaten, chained and fighting for his survival after two attempts to leave are thwarted. Floyd eventually recognises that the only way not to lose his daughter to Stephen is to take her away - but he is already too late.

All three of the major players are never short of excellent. Maury Chaykin gives Floyd the right level of unpredictability and menace without ever becoming unbelievable. Paul Gross is perfect as Stephen, one minute grateful for being rescued, before long pleading for his life and finding that money is not the answer to every problem. Like the film itself, Dolores is an enigma. Margaret Langrick manages to make her both innocent and knowing, a child-woman who gradually comes to realise her need to escape from the claustrophobic life she has lived to that point. Particularly telling is the early scene in which Stephen and Dolores are watching television while waiting for Floyd to return. On the TV screen, someone says, "You're not leaving this house!" a statement that appears, with hindsight, to apply to them both, cleverly foreshadowing later events.

The ending, unfortunately, pulls back from the hopelessness of the original play, allowing an air of optimism and romanticism to creep into the final scene. But this is still an intriguing study of three characters whose lives are changed forever when outside forces clash with their internal demons.