You have to feel a bit bad for Shout Factory, they couldn’t have been expecting world events to go the way they did when they made the deal to release the Russian film The Ice Demon. On the other hand, they haven’t pulled or delayed its release until more favourable times. That and the fact they’re releasing it at all after inflicting Russian duds like The Time Guardians and The Widow makes it hard to feel too bad about it.
Note: where there are two credits for a role, the second is the voice performer in The Ice Demon’s English language version. Two hikers caught in a snowstorm struggle to pitch a tent and get some shelter. As they do they make a grim discovery, a body buried in the snowy ground. It turns out to be the body of Matvey (Andrey Marusin/Alexander Gross, Row 19), and despite having been there for ten years somehow he isn’t dead, just in a coma.
When he went missing he left behind a wife Tatyana (Olga Lomonosova, Night Nurses/Tanya Sands, Pokémon) and a young daughter Ksyusha (Alina Babak, Gogol. Viy/Deneen Melody, Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo). They now live with Misha (Alexei Rozin, Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest/Christopher Corey Smith, Toy Therapy: Your Childhood Has Issues).
Needless to say, finding Matvey alive causes plenty of strain in Tatyana and Misha’s relationship, especially after she decides to care for him at home. For Ksyusha it’s all just very confusing as she was too young to have known her father before he vanished. The circumstances surrounding his survival and the fate of the women who found him only add to it.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t add very much to it. I was hoping that The Ice Demon might be a Russian version of Patrick, but it falls far short of that. Indeed, it falls far short of being a horror film. Director Ivan Kapitonov, (Cindy Robinson is credited as the “English Voice Director”) and his three co-writers are more concerned with the domestic drama they can wring out of the situation.
Tatyana’s feelings for her presumed-dead husband, Misha’s insecurity over them and his rather hostile relationship with his stepdaughter. Ksyusha’s interest in the father she never knew and her relationship with Semyon (Gleb Kalyuzhnyy, Outlaw/Chris Niosi, Bigfoot Family) who Misha forbids her to see. These take up most of The Ice Demon’s running time.
It’s not until The Ice Demon’s halfway point that anything odd happens. Matvey’s body occasionally flops around on the bed and people start hallucinating. In a scene that’s more funny than it is scary Misha imagines Tatyana riding Matvey’s convulsing body. A later scene of her screaming and tossing people around is actually laughable.
While the poor script is responsible for most of the problems with The Ice Demon, the voice acting in the dubbed version I saw, the DVD and Blu-ray will have a subtitled version as well, was truly awful. Characters frequently spoke in an emotionless monotone rather than show any concern for what was going on around them. It’s hard to scare an audience when the characters themselves aren’t even worried.
Despite a creepy, if very derivative, morgue scene in the final act The Ice Demon left me cold. It spends way too much time and energy on a conventional drama/thriller storyline before transitioning to weak horror tropes. Even an appearance by the Siberian Pinhead wannabe on the poster couldn’t have saved this film.
Shout! Factory will release The Ice Demon on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD and Digital platforms on April 5th. I’d recommend applying your own sanctions and skipping it. If you do skip it, here are some suggestions from FilmTagger.