Financial woes are always a great story motivator: it’s a sad but very true fact, that poverty can drive someone to worse things than greed. This is, in part, a big piece of the driving force behind Vancouver filmmaker Jason R. Goode’s feature debut Numb, an icy crime thriller starring Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber (who played Apollo in the series), and Aleks Paunovic, an actor known for many different Vancouver filmed projects like The 100, Arctic Air and Continuum.
The film was shot in the Okanagan area, about four hours north of Vancouver. Vernon and Kelowna deep in the winter are the perfect landscape to do this very contained and frozen story about a treasure hunt that may or may not bear fruit. This poses the question: given a logically sounding story, would that propel someone into a sort of wild goose chase? In this case, it becomes a democratic decision and the one forward thinking person is the only person to question it, especially when it comes to preparation, equipment, and physical capability – but I get a little bit ahead of myself here.
Numb opens on a frostbitten and weather beaten Will (Bamber) in a hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit answering questions which we have yet to see the answers. We are then brought back to the beginning of the story, a defeated Will with no options left. After leaving a meeting that went poorly, Will puts on a happy face and a fake story of job interview victory for his wife, Dawn (Stefanie von Pfetten). On their last legs financially and having suffered through a bad couple of years, Will’s lie of obtaining employment lifts her spirits as they begin their drive back to Vancouver.
Being a good samaritan on a cold day, Will ends up pulling over for two underdressed hitchhikers, Lee (Paunovic) and Cheryl (Marie Avgeropoulos, also a mainstay on The 100). The two claim to be on their way to a friend’s place and find it incredibly convenient that our main characters are heading to Vancouver. The initial meeting is as awkward as they come but Lee, although being a hulking over six foot brute of a man, seems to be a friendly and gracious while Cheryl is gruff and full of biting attitude. It’s something that immediately puts Will and Dawn on edge.
An opportunity comes for them all when they pick up a third hitchhiker, near death when they find him and then dies quickly from hypothermia. In the dead man’s possessions are clues to what may be buried gold, a mystery that appeals to everyone’s baser thinking and the group starts to put together a plan of how to get this gold into their possession. From this point on it’s a brutal and cold trek to find the supposed GPS position of the treasure, battling frostbite and the suspicions they have for one another.
As far as acting and character development goes, Numb isn’t a film at any sort of high caliber, it’s fairly formulaic and straight forward. What I found interesting was everyone’s very believable motivations for wanting this money. Will is faced with telling his wife that he lied to her about getting employment, casting a shadow on an already troubled marriage. Dawn sees this as finally being free from the dark years of crushing debt they’ve suffered. Lee is an ex con, just trying to do anything he can for his younger sister Cheryl, who’s reasoning for herself is, well, she’s just greedy and wants the money. I’m sure anyone could relate is some shape or form.
The promise of money in a deadly snowy landscape is really nothing new but it’s an element that is immediately appreciated just for that extra survival piece. A little part of this reminded me of Sam Raimi’s 1998 film A Simple Plan, about three normal people who come across a bunch of money in the forest but Numb has just an added element of desperation to it. A little bit like a deep woods Fargo minus the Coens’ writing and directing with a bit of Kumiko The Treasure Hunter thrown in. I realize that is a whole bunch of random thrown into the same pot but it was what I was thinking about the whole time.
Unfortunately for Numb, the film lacks anything that will make it rise above the din of any Hollywood mystery thriller production. A lot of this film is run of the mill and by the books with only little things that give it real notice. Bamber and Paunovic do very well in their roles, Lee having an interesting and most likely prison learned existentialism to him, but neither rise to the greatness Colin Cunningham gives in one really quick scene. Can someone give him a creepy serial killer movie already?
So, no, Numb won’t turn a lot of heads but it will satisfy someone who wants to see a quick hour and a half crime film and needs some serious scaring away from anything involving hiking or snowshoeing in the woods. Between this and the British Columbia shot Mountain Men last year, I have no interest in adding the black foot of frostbite to my bucket list. I leave that to Survivor Man and Bear Grylls. I give Numb a two and a half out of five.