The cast must have suffered terribly from the Canadian cold while making “Edge of Winter,” but it turns out that the would-be thriller is no cakewalk for the audience, either. Essentially a horror movie about a divorced father’s descent into madness when he and his two sons get lost in the wintry wilds, it boasts some strong performances, but the actors are stranded no less by the flimsy script than by the inhospitable setting.

Joel Kinnaman unravels impressively as troubled, unemployed Elliot Baker, whose ex-wife Karen (Rachelle Lefevre) and her new husband Ted (Shaun Benson) drop off his sons, fifteen-year old Bradley (Tom Holland) and twelve-year old Caleb (Percy Hynes White), to stay with their father while they go off on vacation. As the boys settle in, they find Elliot’s rifle, and he decides to take them out and teach them to shoot it. Caleb is delighted, Bradley less so; but when, after Elliot has allowed the boys to sample some of his beer, their SUV veers into a snow bank, they have to continue on foot as a blizzard comes up. They reach a deserted cabin beside a frozen lake which provides temporary shelter, but soon two outsiders arrive—Richard (Shiloh Fernandez) and Luc (Rossif Sutherland), hunters whose truck has broken down nearby.

It’s uncertain whether the newcomers are to be trusted or not (the fact that Luc speaks French Elliot considers a suspicious sign), but the boys grow more concerned about the deterioration of their father, who’s become less and less stable after accidentally learning from them that Karen and Ted are moving to London and plan to take the kids, of whom they have sole custody, along. The news hits Elliot hard, and at the cabin he seems increasingly intent on all three of them remaining there permanently. He quickly decides that the two hunters are obvious dangers to his plans, while perceiving any reluctance on his sons’ part to fall in with him to be a betrayal. Brad and Caleb, naturally, grow more and more terrified about what their father might do.

There’s something inherently unseemly about books and films that treat the subject of child endangerment as a basis for easy thrills, but beyond that fundamental point, “Edge of Winter” doesn’t use it terribly well. You have to wonder from the get-go how a supposedly watchful mother like Karen could conceivably think it a good idea to leave the boys with the demonstrably untrustworthy Elliot, but from that point the script’s persuasiveness slides precipitously as Connolly works to isolate the trio so that he can play with the father’s mental deterioration and the boys’ increasing fears, while simultaneously providing victims for slaughter and ensuring that the children won’t actually be harmed. Given the chilly environment, the gold standard for this sort of situation would be the snow-covered setting of “The Shining.” By that gauge, this film wouldn’t even manage silver or bronze, down to an ending that even mimics that of Kubrick’s film—though in this case the requisite plot twist is that a vehicle that’s been dead abruptly starts at just the right moment to allow an escape.

Despite all the plot deficiencies, the cast do yeoman work. Kinnaman, hitherto known for action roles, proves that he can hit deeper dramatic notes, and White ably conveys Caleb’s conflicted reactions. Holland is an excellent young actor—he proved his chops in “The Impossible” and was cheerily upbeat as the new Peter Parker in the latest “Captain America” installment—and he captures the mixture of anger and concern in Bradley very well. What one might most remember about his performance, though, are the physical demands he has to endure, not only crawling beneath the cabin floorboards but crashing through the lake ice and thrashing about until he’s yanked out. To be sure, the tsunami he had to deal with in “The Impossible” was a bigger threat, but he looks genuinely frigid by the time this watery sequence is finished. Fernandez and Sutherland manage to seem both potentially sinister and helpful as the two hunters, but as soon as they appear, you’ll likely guess what their actual plot function is (just think Scatman Crothers).

On the technical side, the picture is fairly solid. Norm Li’s cinematography, though sometimes overly dark, gives the locations a suitably gray veneer, and Greg Ng’s editing helps create a brooding atmosphere, italicized by the music from Brooke and Will Blair.

Ultimately, though, while “Edge of Winter” strains to ratchet up the tension to the very end, the suspense deflates instead, and the game cast simply can’t prop it up.