Available now for digital download and streaming and May 19th on disc is Searchlight Pictures’s “Downhill,” a tense family vacation film that examines a week in the life of a troubled marriage. This film is rated R, and is definitely not a cozy family watch. Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Peter (Will Ferrel) play parents of twin middle school aged boys that have brought the family to Austria for a ski trip where a near death experience drives a wedge between them.
“Downhill” is a remake of the Swedish film “Force Majeure.” The film shows its Scandinavian roots through sweeping shot of snowy mountains overlain with a new age score. Billie and Peter begins the film as a comfortable couple, disturbed by small annoyances. But after an unexpected controlled avalanche puts the family in what they feel is a life-threatening situation, Billie questions the integrity and character of the man that she married.
It’s a shame that this movie struggles in a lot of ways, because one consistent theme for Billie is a really topical and relatable struggle for a lot of women. From ill-fitting ski boots to a near death experiences, Billie struggles to have those around her validate her experiences, not just the emotions she has about them, but that the very events themselves even took place. Her desire to acknowledge and dissect the trauma she felt with her children butts up against Peter’s desire to go along to get along.
The whole movie gives you the feeling of being over for dinner at the home of a couple that is fighting, but won’t acknowledge it and everything that one of them does makes the other one visibly furious. Just as you don’t learn much of a lesson from that, this film has a hard time conveying meaning leading to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Billie literally screaming the takeaway on top of a mountain.
This movie is described as a dark comedy, but any joy is hard to find. The laughs in this movie come from the kind of bubbling up when a moment is so awkward that you can just barely take it. It’s such a shame because “Downhill” has so much potential energy from its leads down to smaller cameos from Zach Woods, Zoë Chao and Gracie Otto. But the rewrite to translate from a Swedish dark comedy to an American one just failed, seemingly due to a desire to keep true to “Force Majeure,” a film spoken about rhapsodically by the makers of the film in the extras.
There are a decent number of extras available with the download, including three deleted scenes. The movie seems to have gone through a bit of a hack job to get down to 86 minutes, as one of these extras appears to be the original opening shot for the movie. The gems of the extras are “Origins of the Film” and “Locations” mini-docs that include Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrel doing something they aren’t allowed to in the film: being funny.
For a listing of all the bonus feature and technical specifications here is the initial press release for this home video release of Downhill.