Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell) are vacationing with their two teenage sons at a ski resort in the Alps. One day, during an outdoor lunch, a controlled avalanche sends a wall of snow down toward them, its powder cloud so substantial that all the restaurant patrons fear for their lives. In the panic, Pete flees, saving himself, leaving Billie trapped at the table, protecting their sons. When the snow cloud clears, no one is hurt, but tensions are high as his wife and sons believe he abandoned them in their time of need.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the rest of their vacation does not go well. Pete won’t admit what he did and Billie simmers in (mostly) silence, their interactions steeped in a strong brew of passive aggression. Things really reach a head when Pete’s coworker Zach (Zach Woods) shows up with his bubbly girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao) and their carefree hashtag lifestyle is no match for the simmering stress of their unhappily married friends. Billie tearfully, shakily recounts her brush with death and her husband’s cowardice, while the guests sit in horrified silence. She even gets the boys out of bed to confirm the story when Pete once again denies it. Oooof. The movie is supposed to be uncomfortable but it shouldn’t be so wildly miscast. Louis-Dreyfus is convincingly traumatized while Ferrell is just a buffoon. They’re feel like they’re making two different movies.
Downhill is the unnecessary American remake of the excellent Swedish movie Turist (known in English-speaking countries as Force Majeure). Force Majeure was one of the first films we reviewed here, and one that we talked about for weeks, admiring its cinematography and script, but most of all debating the ethics and themes. We went to a pub afterward, and talked about masculinity, filial duty, gender stereotypes, human instincts, and whether it’s fair to measure your relationship based on a split-second decision. Privately, we all wondered how we might have reacted ourselves.
Coming out of Downhill, all we debated was why Americans feel the need to remake movies and make them worse. Yes, laziness of course. Americans hate subtitles. And reading. But Parasite! Parasite just won Best Picture, and that’s subtitled. Progress? Or wishful thinking? At any rate, Downhill feels unfortunately titled considering how it compares to the heights achieved by its predecessor. If you’re going to bother, skip this one entirely and see Force Majeure. Provoking and invasive, it doesn’t just break the marriage open, it goes inside and pokes around.