Film Review: “Downhill” (2020) ★★★

What would you do during a catastrophic event when a choice has to be made regarding whose life to save first – your own or your loved ones’? We can spend longs hours debating an indisputable matter. However, no one can predict what will happen during that exact moment until we find ourselves in the thick of it. Fortunately or not, the hero of “Downhill”, inspired by Ruben Östlund’s critically acclaimed “Force Majeure”, gets his chance to do the right thing but he, somehow, did not.

“Downhill” follows the Stanton family vacationing in the French Alps. Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Pete (Will Ferrell), their sons, Emerson (Ammon Jacob Ford) and Finn (Julian Grey), are enjoying their time at a restaurant when they suddenly notice a sweeping avalanche coming their way. An avalanche that leaves a devastating result, not because of its possibly deadly impact, but the broken pieces it leaves for the family when Pete, instead of giving his children and his wife priority, grabs his phone and runs away for the sake of his own life.

When the film begins, we find Pete constantly sitting with his phone, texting his friend Zach, who’s with his girlfriend, Rosie traveling across Europe. In the meantime, Billie is struggling with her two boys guiding them, or simply busy with parenting. We learn that Pete had a difficult time processing his father’s death some eight months ago which led the family to travel outside their country in the first place. “This day is all that we have”, we hear Pete keep repeating the line throughout the film. However, when disaster is about to strike we find Pete, instead of looking after his wife and children, worried only about his phone when, in reality, the scary avalanche could have killed three lives instantly.

The main drama occurs afterward when Billie and the children are stunned realizing that the man of the family was concerned about his well being first. And when Billie confronts Pete right in front of Zach (Zach Woods) and Rosie (Zoe Chao), the matter gets escalated as Pete keeps providing his own version of events that did not fit with what Billie had witnessed or we, the viewers, did. That scene alone was not easy to process, neither for Billie, Zach, Rosie or the children, nor for the audience when they realize he’s one stubborn man who cannot acknowledge his mistake and say a simple sorry.

Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, “Downhill”, which had slight changes from the original version, offers a lighter version of “Force Majeure”, which, in a way, is as painful as the former to watch. While some scenes are quite funny, it will be hard to make a comparison with Ruben Östlund’s version. If you do that, it won’t work for you at all. For instance, we have Charlotte (Miranda Otto), a European free-spirited woman whose language or attitude may shock the North American viewers. However, allow me to break the news for you – there’s nothing new about Charlotte nor what she says and how she says it. It’s a character Otto must handle throughout, whether good or bad, she manages it in her own way.

As for “Downhill”, to say that it could have been better than it was, sure, it could be. However, the version you expect or someone else does is a question I won’t be able to answer. Many may criticize it by asking why is Hollywood remaking another masterpiece. The truth is, not everyone is willing to read subtitles. Also, while “Force Majeure” had a limited release, its concept is important to discuss be it in any language and “Downhill”, with its wider release, can help Ruben Östlund and his film to be seen once again.

In the end, “Downhill” has its ups and downs but never fails to deliver its point – we can say anything we want but in the end, we came to this world alone and will leave alone. And when something happens, the only person we will try to rescue first is ourselves. While I agree that’s not the case with every single individual, what “Downhill” teaches us is that it depends on who we are with and how much we care about them which will determine whether to sacrifice our lives for that person or not. The film offers two equally important scenes that will be open to debates long after it’s over, and those are reasons enough for you to give it a fair shot.

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