The first film I saw at the 2018 Florida Film Festival did not kick-start the long day the way I’d hoped. I picked Cold November (2017) because it was marketed as a coming of age story because I’m usually a sucker for those. However, writer and director Karl Jacob isn’t just crafting a coming of age story with his film, but the other narrative strands never really develop into anything other than frustration. There are some strong moments in the film, but with some clunky dialogue and camera work, the film fell flat multiple times.
Cold November never quite warmed up
Florence (Bijou Abas) is 12-years-old, and about to follow in the footsteps of her mother (Anna Klemp) and grandmother (Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding) by killing her first deer. Hunting season is right around the corner, and this is a big step in her young life. Though, her cousin’s death looms over the family and her…or at least it seems like it’s supposed to.
It is here that the film has the biggest problem. Florence is introduced to us building a small city out of boxes for her matchbox cars. The car she is controlling is a police vehicle looking for a missing girl. This fact seems meaningless at first, but as Aunt Mia (Heidi Fellner) is introduced and Florence receives her first rifle, there is more presented with regard to this mystery. Mia mentions Sweeney (Alaina Lucy Rivera), who we will meet in a haunting dream of Florence moments later. The mystery behind Sweeney seems ripe with plot details, and yet it never goes anywhere. In fact, how she died is forever left unanswered, despite a conversation about ensuring the deer is killed so it doesn’t suffer, which leads to Florence asking her mother if Sweeney suffered. Her mother responds with a fact, stating that Sweeney was strong and knew what she was getting into. Did something sinister happen, or was it merely unfortunate circumstances?
This element of the story gets shoehorned into major elements that should have just been about Florence dealing with growing up. Instead, Uncle Craig (Kaleb Jacob) gets a monologue during the film’s resolution, which clearly attempts to clarify the point of the film. It is a sentimental moment that feels unearned, and only emphasizes the issues the narrative has. Florence is twelve, about to kill a deer, and in the midst of all the excitement, she gets her period for the first time. Florence shakes most of these things off. She helps skin the deer her grandmother killed, and barely flinches. When she awakens to find blood in her underwear, she calmly goes to the outhouse and decides pads over tampons, waiting until midway through her hunt the next day to even mention it to her mother. She seems completely unphased by the events going on in her life, and that only makes the mystery storyline seem needed…but neither really go anywhere you think they should.
Fortunately, the movie isn’t a total waste. Abas gives a strong performance, though maybe a little inconsistent at times, that demonstrates she can lead a film. There are a few scenes that are initiated with very unneeded shaky camera movement as her mother leaves her in the hunting blind, and all alone. She is charismatic enough to make these scenes mostly enjoyable, as each time something occurs giving her opportunity to craft entertainment for the audience.
Cold November didn’t achieve what it set out to do. While a female coming-of-age story that would normally be reserved for a male protagonist is refreshing to see, a weakly told story is always weak despite its progressive intentions. It’s definitely not one you need to seek out, but there are worse ways to spend two hours. Cold November earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.