The premise seems simple enough: three young people are accidentally locked into a sauna, where they slowly sweat to death. This is the kind of premise that producers love to hear. It automatically means several pertinent things (at least in my twisted mind): You’re going to have a small set, and will film largely in a single location. This means a low budget. The story is easy to come up with, as you can send twentysomethings to a remote place under the excuse of “a party,” and they’ll go. A sauna also means that we’ll have people in swimsuits and towels, making for an easy way to film young people with nice bodies stripping to nearly nothing and sweating. Eventually, they may die, making for some good gooey blood effects. Cheap. Sexy. Gory. Easy!
Levan Bakhia and Beqa Jguburia’s 247°F, however, skews much more ambitious. The Blu-Ray box would have you believe this is a cheap and short (88-minute) exploitation movie that exists only to fulfill its required quota of blood and nudity, but the tone is actually much more downbeat than a first glance would have you believe. Indeed, the sauna misadventure doesn’t begin until nearly 30 minutes into the film, and it bothers to setup the various characters’ pasts. Jenna (Scout-Taylor Compton) is actually suffering from severe depression, even three years after “the accident.” Much is made of her angst, and there are a lot of intense discussions as to her mental state, and how she’s feeling. She eyeballs the hunky blonde (Travis Van Winkle), and has a teetering friendship with her skinny babe friend Renee (Christina Ulloa). And while I usually appreciate an otherwise low-budget film’s attempts at character building, it seems sloppy here. As if brooding and screaming can replace any realistic human interaction. 247°F may try to class up the joint with drama, and by pointedly eschewing its clear exploitative elements, but all the attempts at character building feel rushed and somewhat disingenuous. The only character who comes across as genuine is the kindly old owner of the sauna, played by Tyler Mane from the first X-Men feature and the more recent Halloween movies.
After a while, it’s clear that the filmmakers attempted to make a psychological horror film along the lines of 127 Hours, complete with flashbacks, “meaningful” reflections, and the actual physical labor put into the breakout attempts. Much of the film is devoted to the mechanics of a sauna, and how the people inside try to escape. People are injured, some people begin to suffocate, and the heat is rising all the time. And while this bloody-minded mechanic would also make for a decent little thriller, 247°F is too ambitious for its own good. Case in point [Spoiler]: we don’t learn what locked the sauna door until 10 minutes from the end. It turns out it was just a fallen ladder. Hiding that fact doesn’t, however, increase drama. [End Spoiler] It just feels like stylistic jerking around.
There seems to be an unfortunate trend with a lot of recent low-budget horror films to do this. It seems to me that many low-budget horror films of yore seemed to grab your eye by adding extra blood or interesting ways for a killer to murder a teenager. There would even be some titillating nudity for good measure. In the last 10 years or so, though, low-budget horror films have tended instead toward a lugubrious moodiness and more ghostly photography. Everything is so damn serious now. It’s like budget filmmakers forgot that their movies could actually have some fun to them. These days, it’s either too-precious moments of forced levity, or just outright depressing brutality. 247°F could have used some energy.