A whodunit straight out of the Agatha Christie school, but framed within a Russian setting, “The Weather Station” is an entertaining if slight plot-guessing exercise that cries out for the Hollywood remake treatment. Notable for the fact that it was directed by an Irishman (second-time helmer Johnny O’Reilly), this year’s second Russian thriller set at an arctic meteorological outpost (the first being “How I Ended This Summer”) looks primed for busy theatrical and vid sales — and that remake deal — but will likely bypass most fests, where it’s an odd fit.
A slightly ominous mood pervades a weather station managed with a gruff mixture of indifference and exhaustion by meteorologists Drozdov (Sergey Garmash) and Ivanov (Vladimir Gusev), who treat young assistant and cook Romash (Pyotr Logachev) like a slow-witted underling. Alexei Kolmogorov and O’Reilly’s script quickly establishes a flash-forward/flashback structure as investigators find the same station two days later, seemingly abandoned.
The degree of enjoyment afforded by this plot-heavy concoction depends greatly on the viewer’s tolerance for this parallel action pattern, which becomes more pronounced by the reel. At first, chief detective Andrey (Alexei Guskov) and his youthful junior, Slava (Anton Shagin), appear to be in conventional sleuthing mode as they try to solve what could be a case of disappearances or murder.
In the past-set sequences, Romash appears to have a few screws loose, at worst; at best, he’s an eccentric, barely socialized guy who likes to sequester himself in cramped spaces. Drozdov’s fascination with the yeti, aka Abominable Snowman (whose mythical Himalayan habitat is nowhere near pic’s locale), is nothing but a device to scare Romash and distract the audience; the unexpected entry of tycoon-on-the-run Vadim (Sergey Yushkevich) and his flirty g.f., Irina (Marina Alexandrova), lends the narrative considerably more intrigue, and more than a few question marks.
As the two strands inch closer to each other, the figures who resonate most are Romash, not nearly as dumb as he first seems, and Slava, whose talent for putting bits and piece together makes him a formidable threat to the increasingly suspicious Andrey, who may have ulterior motives for being at the weather station in the first place.
Crafting the sort of brain-tickling thriller the studios haven’t produced too many of in recent years, O’Reilly looks primed for a Moscow-to-Hollywood transfer, especially given that he’s a native English speaker. What’s perhaps more surprising is how his film coyly delivers so many insights into contemporary Russian realities, from scientists’ outsider status (after decades as Soviet demigods) to corruption in high places.
While perfs range from broad to ingenious, the tech package is uniformly impressive, and certainly lies in the high-rent district for current Russian film production. Alexandr Simonov’s cinematography, done in deeply inhospitable conditions, is perhaps the film’s most impressive element; Valentin Vasenkov’s music is its least.