Despite Parasite (2019) winning the Oscar for Best Picture, Americans still find it extremely hard to watch a foreign film. While we might hopefully not be getting a Parasite remake (there is an HBO series in the works, but produced by director Bong Joon-ho), we have yet again another Americanized and diluted remake with Downhill (2020).
Downhill is a remake of the Norwegian Force Majeure (2014). The adapted story is of an American family on a Ski trip in Austria. During a controlled avalanche the family thinks they are in mortal danger and the father Peter (Will Ferrell) runs away abandoning mother Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and their two sons (Ammon Jacob Ford, Julian Grey). Forced to face the awkward situation of leaving his family to die in a false alarm, Peter’s relationship with his family is forced into an uncomfortable introspection.
A remake can sometimes bring different interpretations or perspectives to a same concept, and Downhill’s concept certainly is a fascinating one to explore. However, this Nat Faxon and Jim Rash-directed film seems to only detract from aspects that its Norwegian original triumphed. There is a certain admirable restraint that is uncommon for mainstream American films, which seek to overexplain everyone’s emotions and motivations. This tactic of holding up the tensions and passions can provide some meaty material for performers, however, Downhill seemed to be stuck in this one mode for its entire runtime. This proves to be a rather stale rhythm for viewers who are never fully immersed in the more uncomfortable ethical and psychological questions. Overall it contrasts as an extremely timid and superficial story in comparison with the (always) superior original.
The film is held up by Louis-Dreyfus, who is never short of exceptional in all her work, both on TV and film. Louis-Dreyfus is able to really sink her teeth into the difficult confusion that her character is thrown into, of judging her husband based on some shameful seconds. She is much more capable at providing a backstory and depth to the atmosphere of Downhill than neither the script (surprisingly written by Succession (2018-)creator Jesse Armstrong) nor the directors. Ferrell is less capable in the dramatic moments, showcasing that it is an area he’s much more inexperienced in. In fact, much of the cast and creative team seemed to be much more adept at comedy, making their hiring for this specific film to be rather baffling. Force Majeure was able to bring about a dark comedic tone, but it is a difficult balance that can be treacherous if done wrong.
In the end, Downhill is another frustrating Americanized version of a much better foreign film. Hopefully the likes of Parasite and successful foreign series and films on Netflix will usher in a new form of interaction with these pieces. As Bong Joon-ho said in his Golden Globes acceptance speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch barrier of subtitles you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” and through it be able to skip these shameful American cash-grabs.