Two women and a man get trapped in a basement laundry in “Three Below Zero,” a huis clos drama in which the dialogue isn’t gripping enough to take the viewer’s mind off the wash. First feature by Swiss-born (now DGA member) Simon Aeby sports OK performances and unforced use of widescreen in the claustrophobic setting, but doesn’t cut a distinctive enough profile to succeed theatrically.
The easygoing Julian (Wes Bentley) and edgy Moriat (Kate Walsh) meet over the dryers in a Gotham apartment building. They’re soon joined by an older, more sophisticated woman, Nora (Judith Roberts). A storm is brewing outside, and suddenly the basement door blows shut, trapping the three together.
Moriat immediately starts getting antsy because she has to catch a flight that night to join her b.f. on the West Coast. She already suspects Julian stole a peek at her undies when she was out of the room earlier, and doesn’t appreciate his insolent tone. He tells her he’s a talented drummer who didn’t go to Juilliard because of his political convictions; though it’s never stated, Moriat has the scent of a moneyed upbringing.
In the first of several unbelievable plot contrivances, the pair end up flirting, then arguing again. Next, he reveals he’s originally from Sausalito, where her b.f. comes from, which triggers a sudden show of friendliness by Moriat that ends in the pair making love in front of Nora. In fact, it’s a deliberate lie by Julian to get back at her, leading to the guts of the picture in which each character fesses up to true feelings and weaknesses. Ending makes some sense of pic’s earlier, more unbelievable moments but is weak, to say the least.
Basic problem is that the emotional claustrophobia of the setting is never convincingly drawn. Nor do the characters’ personalities don’t really stand up to this much examination — at least, not with the dialogue they’re handed. Moriat emerges as little more than spoiled, and Julian as nothing much at all, apart from being a young rebel. The elder Nora is sidelined for much of the action, an observer rather than participant in the emotional table tennis.
The three leads make the best of the script and individually have brief moments. Whole film has a somewhat flat, underlit look that detracts from Aeby’s use of widescreen.