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sundance 2020 - downhill
sundance 2020 - downhill
erin sleater
Culture > Entertainment

Sundance in Review: Downhill

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Utah chapter.

Do we always have to take a perfectly good foreign film and Americanize it? Yes, apparently. Though, when you have Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus the act is a bit more excusable. Downhill, the simplified version of  Ruben Östlund’s 2014 Swedish film Force Majeurewhich is known as one of the best films of the decade, premiered Saturday, Jan. 27th at the Eccles Theatre during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. 

Pete (Ferrell) and Billie (Dreyfus) take their sons on a skiing trip in the Austrian Alps, while Pete continues to grieve over his father who passed eight months prior. After a day of skiing, a controlled avalanche, which looks potentially threatening, approaches the restaurant patio the family has settled in for lunch. As panic grows as the snow seems seconds away from engulfing and destroying the entire patio,  Billie wraps her arms around her children, prepared for the worst, as Pete grabs his phone and runs from his family, leaving them to possibly meet their impending doom. But, seconds later, it is revealed all is well, and everyone on the patio is seemingly unharmed and safe. Pete returns moments later to simply order soup, oblivious to what change has just occurred within the family dynamic.


Though the film does explore panic, family conflict, and the emotional wreckage it leaves, Downhillin short, just scratched the surface on what could have been a outstanding film. With some stand out scenes and genuine laughs, it did the bare minimum to be considered a “good” film you didn’t have to think too hard about. Downhill focuses quite literally on a couple and their struggles with marriage and parenthood while on a family vacation, while Force Majeure is about more than a conflictual marriage- it’s a scary, emotionally draining demolition of social order.

In the film’s Q&A session, Oscar-winning co-writers and directors Jim Rash and Nat Faxton, who previously visited the festival for their premiere The Way, Way Back in 2013, made it clear they were fans of the original, and acknowledge the grueling task of remaking the project and applying an American take on it. They explained they loved translating the cringe and awkwardness present in both films, and highlighted the added element of featuring Americans in a foreign land, along with a language-barrier adding extra layers of vulnerability. 

The most impressive part of the film is undoubtably it’s cast, as the film is joined by the undeniable talent of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell as it’s leads, accompanied by an impressive performances from Kristofer Hivju and Zach Wood – the cast’s chemistry seems to be the saving grace of this film. 

Dreyfus certainly steals the show, and Rash goes on to explain they used Dreyfus’ character of Billie to “open up the POV from the other side,” as he felt it was important to add a females point of view more than Force Majeure, as well to explore “How we operate in a couple and hold on to who we are as a person?” Dreyfus went on to answer a question comparing Downhill and Force Majeure, explaining  “we all felt very protective of the bones of the original story…we wanted to approach it, of course, as being Americans abroad, and that does change the story, for sure. And, additionally, we wanted to open up specific areas, specifically the role I played, to make her a little more flawed.” 

The 85-minute run time provides audience with a simple, crowd-pleasing, attempted dark comedy that feels to light, as there is a clear lack of the deep discomfort and shock that made Force Majeure so notable. The film gives a glimpse into toxic masculinity, as Pete struggles to justify his actions and Billie becomes increasingly aware of her husband’s selfish tendencies, but proves to be much less risky, in turn less captivating, than it’s counterpart. 

Downhill would certainly be more favorable to those who hadn’t seen Force Majeure prior, and proves to be the kind of movie you watch on a lazy Sunday with nothing else to do, not a Sundance premiere. 

Downhill hits theatres this Valentine’s Day. 

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Erin is a senior at University of Utah currently pursuing strategic communications major with writing and rhethoric minor. She's passionate about all things creative, and hopes one day to work in the film industry.