Downhill was a gamble from the start. As is the case with many European-to-American remakes, there is an inherent risk involved.
By and large many of the original films are created by auteurs: masters of their craft who have honed their skills into what are deeply personal films. On the receiving end of the exchange, the American side is frequently helmed by budding artists who believe they found a diamond in the rough, and want to reintroduce it to the world. In the case of Downhill, the remake is just rough.
Although the marketing tries to play it up as a dramedy; Downhill really isn’t much of anything on either end of the emotional spectrum. The premise is straightforward: a man (Will Ferrell) and a woman (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are vacationing with their two children at a ski resort. The man, believing an impending avalanche is going to kill everyone, runs away like a coward, then denies it afterward. This happens fairly early, and the rest of the film is spent dealing with the aftermath as we slowly learn the dynamic between their relationship and the relationship with their kids. Naturally, there were problems afoot before the event, but the avalanche is merely the catalyst.
Downhill is just a miserable film almost throughout its runtime. Nearly everyone but the two leads are radiant (including the extremely likeable Zach Woods, who plays Ferrell’s work friend and fellow vacation-goer), and the tone shifts so jarringly and so often that you really can’t marinate on any given moment. There are also far too many not-so-subtle cues regarding the breakdown of a relationship it can only be considered pure overload; sprinkled with moments of sap and cheese factor. It’s a complete tonal crisis and at such a short runtime, there’s no room for resolution.
Downhill is rarely fun or weighty. Julia Louis-Dreyfus does fine with what she’s given, but Ferrell feels completely miscast: making the juggling act of drama and comedy that much harder to sell. Add a rushed resolution as the cherry on top and you have a very confusing, Strawberry-only Neapolitan sundae that no one really wants. There are some beautiful shots of the mountainside and a few scenes that broach some semblance of emotion, but they are few and far between.
Like its setting, Downhill is a cold film. In 2020 we’re past the age of subtitles being taboo: just seek out the Swedish original (Force Majeure) and be done with it.