The Cold

Author: Russell Friedenberg
Genre: Thriller/Horror
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 5

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A veteran returns from Afghanistan and finds that he and his friends are hunted by the same supernatural creature he faced overseas.


In the cold, harsh mountains of Afghanistan, soldier KOTZ (30s) leads his men (which includes childhood friend MATTY BOYLE, also 30s) through unforgiven territory. All the soldiers are panic-stricken about something unseen, hidden by the night. They hear something rustling in the bushes, followed by an agonizing scream. A year later, Kotz is released from the VA Hospital after a psych screening. The doctor explains to Kotz that he’s suffering from symptoms of dementia and disorientation, which will not go away unless properly treated. He schedules Kotz for regular therapy and writes him a prescription for anti-psychotics. Kotz looks at a GI (20s) whose tongue is somehow missing. It unsettles him.

Kotz walks through the small mountain town of Mountain Home, Idaho. Despite the freezing conditions, he wears a short-sleeve shirt. A beautiful Native American girl, ALEXIE (30s), pulls up beside him in a pickup and offers Kotz a ride. Kotz hops in the truck, Alexie welcomes him home, and they immediately have sex, but Kotz remains distant throughout. Afterward, Alexie hands Kotz a box containing Matty’s personal effects. Kotz goes to a Thanksgiving party at the Buster Back Ranch, where he meets up with brothers KIM (20s) and KELLY (30s), who try to settle their drunk, belligerent mother. DR. DAVID SANDMAN (40s) asks SONNY CHILDE (30s), formerly Kotz’s sergeant, about Kotz’s mental state. Sonny tries to explain the difficulty of the stress involved in war and how that can affect the psyche. Kotz greets Sonny awkwardly. Kotz runs into NEELIS (60s), Matty’s father and a Vietnam veteran. After comparing the differences between their wartime experiences, Neelis leads Kotz to Matty’s room, observing that nobody’s been in there since Matty “didn’t come home.” Kotz steps inside, finding a number of military medals but also a plethora of disturbing drawings.

During the Thanksgiving dinner, Neelis announces that Congress has posthumously award Matty a Medal of Honor. Everyone’s humbled and depressed. Later, Kotz gathers around a campfire with Kim, Kelly, Sonny, Sandman, Neelis, and JAKE BLACKFOX. They notice strong winds and a winter storm approaching and consider canceling their annual Thanksgiving hunting trip. Jake asks what happened to Matty. Neelis isn’t sure he wants to say in front of Kotz, but he finally does: Matty came back a year ago, depressed and a little crazy. Unable to find a job, he started drinking a lot. He became convinced that something was following him, the “Demon Wind.” Kotz tenses noticeably. Not long after that, Matty’s hair began turning white, and then he simply disappeared one day. The next morning, Kotz thinks he sees the “Demon Wind” moving through the trees. It’s a beast with red teeth and claws and snow-white hair. The group packs for their trip and heads out into the mountains.

At a convenience store in the mountains, Jake sees a novelty “windigo” that looks very similar to the “Demon Wind” creature. Jake asks Neelis about it. Neelis explains that back when whites were kidnapping Indians to convert them to Christianity, a legend was born that a creature would come in on the wind and take the white man. The group unloads their cargo onto rented snowmobiles and takes them deeper into the mountains, to a rickety cabin. After male-bonding talk around a campfire, the group goes to bed. At night, Kotz is unsettled by the sounds of screeching wind he hears outside. The next morning, they go out hunting. Kotz, using a crossbow, spots an elk. He fires, but Kelly shoots his rifle and scares the elk off, preventing a clean kill. The injured elk runs away, then seems to fly in the air, floating away quickly. When they find it, it’s somehow suspended in the trees. They hand Jake — who’s on his first hunt — a pistol to finish it off, so he can officially get his first kill. Jake starts trembling, so Kotz slashes the elk’s throat with his knife. Kotz gripes that whoever hung it made sure the meat would be tainted. They leave the carcass.

They return to the cabin and find windows shattered and the place trashed. Neelis and Kelly blame it on bears, but Kotz isn’t so sure. They find the gutted remains of the elk in a pool of blood in the bathtub, which unsettles all of them. That night, they huddle around a wood-burning stove for warmth amid stormy conditions. Kim shows everyone his satellite phone, which he feels will help them if they get in any real trouble. Suddenly, a harsh wind blows open the patched-over windows, blowing snow into the cabin. The wind screeches. Meanwhile, Alexie drives through town in the storm to retrieve Matty’s box of personal effects. The contents make her weep. Then, she finds a cell phone, which has a video on it. She’s disturbed by what she sees, but we don’t see it — we just hear a series of blood-curdling screams coming from Kotz, Matty, and his men. Horrified, Alexie immediately jumps in her truck and heads into the mountains.

The next morning, Kotz hears the wind and spots a wolf outside. He begins to yell at it, gathering the attention of the others. Jake is pulled away by the “Demon Wind.” They run in the direction he was pulled, finding enormous footprints making a trail of hops and leaps that no known animal could possibly make. Neelis finds one of Jake’s boots in the middle of a field. They walk around all day but find no sign of Jake. Back at the cabin, Sandman finds Kotz’s prescription. He tells Sonny it’s an extremely powerful anti-psychotic, suggesting Kotz has severe mental problems. Sandman tries to hint that perhaps Kotz is behind Jake’s disappearance. Sonny refuses to believe it, but they both decide to be vigilant about Kotz taking his meds. Kim’s satellite phone stops working, the result of a “magnetic anomaly” caused by the storm.

The next morning, they find Neelis is gone, with a straightforward trail of human footprints leading into the woods. They find huge claw marks on the side of the cabin. Kotz observes that they’re out of rations and have no communication. The best way to help them is to get back to their snowmobiles and get help. The others agree. As they trudge through waist-high snow, Kotz notices that, no matter which direction they move, the wind is always blowing in their faces. Suddenly, is snared by a trap involving huge spikes that shoot up from the ground. It doesn’t impale him, but it does raise him into the sky. They find a dead hunter, frozen and apparently eaten by something that looks human. They pull down Sandman and continue walking. Sandman asks about the windigo. Kim says it supposedly takes people and feeds on them. Kotz tells them that the Afghans have a similar legend. They call it “pazuzu,” or “Demon Wind.” They try to chalk it up to mythology, but everyone’s a little disturbed. A huge, deep shadow forms ahead. They hear a menacing growl, but as they move closer, it turns out they’re at the edge of the canyon, at the top of which they left their snowmobiles. They climb up it and discover the snowmobiles have been destroyed. They also find Alexie’s truck, which has crashed into a tree. The group is horrified.

Inside Alexie’s truck, they find the cell phone with the video. Kotz shuts it off quickly, before the others can see. Now that Alexie’s in the mix, Kotz changes the plan: half of them will try to walk to town, while the other half will go into the woods and find their missing friends. Kim and Sandman head for town; Kotz, Sonny, and Kelly go back to the cabin. As they approach it, Jake appears. He opens his mouth to speak, but his tongue is gone. He collapses. They see Neelis behind him, hauling Jake back to his feet. Neelis saw what took Jake. He knows it’s the windigo, and that it knows where they are. Meanwhile, Sandman and Kim hear a loud screech that seems to be circling them and getting closer. Kim’s startled by his phone suddenly ringing. It’s his mother, whom he begs to call the satellite company so they can track the phone’s GPS. Suddenly, he’s taken by the Demon Wind. His phone flops to the ground. Sandman chases him into the woods, where he finds a path of blood in the snow. He sees a creature approaching — but it’s Alexie, wounded and shaking uncontrollably. She passes out, and the real creature descends, taking Sandman.

In the cabin, Sonny demands to know what happened to Kotz and Matty in Afghanistan. Kotz explains they encountered a similar evil, unkillable force, and he thinks it followed them back to Idaho. Kelly speculates that Matty built the huge trap, not the creature. Something suddenly beats on the roof. They run outside and find Kim, suspended in the air. He’s traumatized. He tries to warn them, but the creature pulls him back, and all they hear are screams. Kelly is horrified. By the next morning, the group has turned the cabin into a fortress. Inside the cabin, they find that Neelis has allowed Jake to feed on his body, which has in turn infected Neelis. His hair begins to turn white. The others are disgusted. Neelis steals Kotz’s pistol and drags Jake outside, where he puts him out of his misery, then kills himself.

The group spends the day attempting to lay out traps for the creature. While outside alone, Kotz sees “the creature” — it appears to be Matty, huge, hair white, eyes yellow like a wolf, with a belt made of bloody, dismembered human tongues. He digs his bloody fingernails into Kotz’s arm. Kotz returns to the cabin, where Sonny has found an elaborate Special Forces pulley system Matty attempted to use to hunt the Demon Wind. Kotz realizes Matty failed. Sandman struggles back to the cabin, where he tells them he saw the creature and put a bullet in it. They realize Kelly has been infected, so Sandman shoots him with a flare gun. Suspicious of him, Kotz and Sonny tie up Sandman. Sandman tries to convince them he’s fine.

Sonny and Kotz use their military training to prepare more traps. Matty returns. Sonny tries to shoot him, but he’s too quick. Matty pulls Sonny away. Kotz retreats to the cabin. Something slams against the door, so Kotz fires wildly. Although not severe, Kotz notices that Sandman really is infected. He leaves him tied up. Kotz moves into the cabin’s crawl space, where he finds the injuried Alexie, moaning in agony. Alexie warns him about Matty, that she saw him and he tried to force her to eat flesh. Kotz pulls himself back up and is about to grab Alexie when Sandman’s infection worsens. He becomes threatening, so Kotz strangles him. He hoists up Alexie and tries to get out when Kelly suddenly reappears, grabbing Kotz’s legs and pulling him away. Kotz shoots Kelly in the head with a flare gun. Kotz and Alexie retreat outside.

They set the cabin on fire to lure the creature. Then, they hop on a makeshift sled and force the creature to chase them down through the mountains. Eventually, they come upon Matty’s dead body, used up and discarded by the creature, which still pursues them. They manage to get back to Alexie’s truck. They try to start it, but it won’t turn over. As the creature gets closer, the truck’s windows smash. They finally get it started, and Alexie rockets the truck down the highway. She pulls a fast 180, throwing the creature off the car. They turn back, and Alexie speeds toward the creature, plowing into it. She stops the truck and finds they’ve hit nothing. Kotz looks under the truck and just sees the snowy road. Alexie pulls up Kotz, and he realizes she’s infected. Her eyes have turned yellow like a wolf.


The Cold makes a valiant attempt at using an unstoppable supernatural force as a metaphor for the post-traumatic psychoses suffered by military veterans. However, reliance on stale clichés and thin characters prevent the script from reaching its potential. As written, it merits a pass.

The story follows a straightforward horror path, opening with a horrific moment that foreshadows what’s to come before cutting to a more subdued introduction to the ensemble of hunters who carry most of the story. The first act takes its time getting to the action, allowing the characters to trade insults and salty dialogue while attempting to make them each seem like individuals.

Once Jake disappears, the genre clichés start to surface: mystical explanations of old Indian legends, sudden moments of shock, and the pursuit of an unseen enemy. The writer initially attempts to play with these conventions, first by using the “windigo” as a symbol for Kotz and Matty’s post-war mental problems, then by suggesting perhaps the windigo doesn’t exist at all — perhaps it’s all just Kotz’s dementia. Unfortunately, the writer never makes enough of the dementia element. It’s always clear that Kotz is really seeing what he sees, and the others see supernatural happenings before their eyes too quickly to maintain the sense of paranoia that there may be a killer among them.

In the third act, the writer first makes the symbolic purpose of the windigo so overwrought that it becomes eye-rolling instead of subtle. Then, he abandons the metaphor completely, turning the script into a gorefest followed by a ridiculous sled chase. The frustrating, deeply unsatisfying resolution kills off all the characters without allowing them to come close to stopping the windigo. It certainly defies expectations, but that doesn’t make the ending enjoyable in any way.

Kotz is a difficult character to carry this story because, as somebody who’s haunted by what he saw in Afghanistan and who may be insane, he’s closed off from the other characters and, as a result, closed off to the audience. After introducing him as a man suffering from dementia so severe that he requires powerful anti-psychotics that may not control it, the writer doesn’t do much with this trait. Only Sandman suspects Kotz may be the culprit early on, but nobody else questions him, and Kotz never even questions himself. He simply stares mournfully at the pills he’s shackled to. In terms of the metaphor, it would have been much more interesting if the windigo were tied more directly to his mental state, making Kotz and his friends start questioning the truth of what’s happening around them.

Early on, the writer does a passable job of distinguishing these characters’ personalities through their macho banter. However, they don’t rise above stock characters: Kotz the haunted bad-boy, Jake the young guy, Neelis the wise elder, Sandman the doctor, etc. After the early scenes, they lose all sense of individuality, with each character relegated to delivering plot information or screaming as they’re killed. Furthermore, with the exception of Neelis after Jake disappears, none of them seem all that interested in the loss of their friends. They seem to search more out of obligation than any real desire to find them.

The Cold delivers mild scares and some reasonably entertaining action sequences, but overall, it’s a missed opportunity. The lack of strong characters and a story that falls apart in the third act are problems it can’t overcome without a significant rewrite.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 30, 2009 3:17 PM