Much like Jodie Foster's Flightplan, Wind Chill is an example of a 'first hour' movie. The first hour, played alone, would make for an intriguing and suspenseful short film, with Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes starring as two unnamed characters, college students who don't know each other but agree to share a car because they both need to travel the snowbound roads to Delaware. Because of the odd things he says and the questions he avoids during the trip, the girl begins to suspect that the boy is not who he says he is, and she starts to question why he seems intent on getting off the main highway and taking the back roads. Eventually, their car will end up swerving off the road and barreling into a snow drift, which is exactly the point when you should get up and leave the theater. Just leave the rest of it to your imagination, because what really happens next is not only stupid, it's also complicated-stupid -- a few innocuous boo-moments that require an entire confusing, extraneous backstory to give them some plausibility.
The only way to make Wind Chill interesting is to examine it the way a lot of people in Hollywood are going to -- as an opportunity to scrutinize the star-potential of Emily Blunt. After practically upstaging star Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada with only a small supporting role, Blunt began to be compared to a young Kate Winslet and was put on a fast-track; she has since inked deals to appear in the big-budget Julia Roberts-Tom Hanks drama Charlie Wilson's War and to play young Queen Victoria in the Scorsese-produced biopic, among other projects. The stage is almost entirely hers in Wind Chill, and she certainly does hold her own, giving an entirely full-throated, aggressive performance as the antsy college student, and even remaining committed and engaged in the role after the plot turns into a morass of stupidity. Like an actor working off a green-screen, there are moments in Wind Chill where Blunt has to act like she's facing some terrifying special effects, and she plays up her horrified reactions appropriately.
Holmes has more of a thankless role, as a guy who is either hiding some major secret, or only needs to seem that way in order to serve the script. There's a weird early scene in which Blunt's character becomes trapped in a gas station bathroom because of a faulty door handle, and Holmes appears not to hear her screaming to be let out, even though he's only a few feet away at the front counter. She confronts him on it, obviously, but it's not made clear whether we are supposed to believe him or whether he genuinely didn't hear her, and it never comes up again in the story. It's a loose thread. Overall, though, the interplay between the two actors is pretty good, and we could absolutely buy it as the set-up for a satisfying psycho-thriller style movie or even something with a supernatural bent, but not something as slapdash as what we actually end up getting. I seem to be using this phrase a lot lately, but the film's eventual payoff is 'money back' bad.
If you're still reading this, you're probably curious as to what exactly happens after the first hour to completely sink the film. Okay, here's what happens -- spoiler warning -- it turns out that the kids have been run off the road by a cop, played by Martin Donovan. Actually, the ghost of a dirty cop from the 1950s who used to pull people over and then just totally murder them. (We see flashbacks of him pulling a stereotypical 50s housewife out of her car and dragging her over to the ditch where she will be killed.) Eventually, the cop himself was taken out and now his ghost claims this isolated stretch of road to snare new victims. This would probably sound okay in a one-page treatment for a horror film, but the problem is that his plan is as dull as it is incomprehensible. It seems to involve him appearing out of nowhere in his phantom patrol car, running the victims off the road, and then popping up to tap on their window once every few hours, in case they've forgotten him.
The ghost cop also has the ability, I think, to turn his victims into frostbite-zombies. Throughout the second half, slow-walking, unresponsive people start to shamble by the car where Blunt and Holmes remain (it's too cold for them to leave the car and go searching for help.) When Blunt tries to flag down one of them and he won't respond, she tries to touch him on the shoulder and draws back a frostbitten hand. I'm not sure if these frostbite-zombies are the cop's former victims or if they are in cahoots with him, but I do know that a bunch of Roman priests are somehow involved, since they also walk by the car a few times and also won't respond to the main characters. See what I mean? This is what we get after investing our time in what we thought was going to be a real movie. Wind Chill is being unceremoniously dropped in theaters this weekend with almost no advertising, because they don't dare tell the audience what it's really in for.