Director/Writer – Adam Green
Starring – Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers
It’s inevitable. At the beginning of a horror movie, the soon to be cursed protagonists just HAVE to look at each other and ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And everything goes downhill from there. However, it’s usually the result of acting on some stupid impulse that only ever happens in a horror flick, like going in an abandoned house, or picking up a creepy looking hitchhiker. It’s never something as innocuous as trying to squeeze in one last ski run down the mountain. However, in Adam Green’s Frozen, the fateful words bring just as much doom upon our three fun-loving heroes as any other horror movie…
Horror films, it seems, have become synonymous with murder; Serial killers chasing after teens, psychos setting elaborate death games, or even just torture of innocents for its own sake. However, the truth is that horror can be found pretty much anywhere you want to find it. Just ask Chuck Palahniuk. It’s a terrifying world we live in, where simply being exposed to the elements for too long, in any number of environments, can result in grizzly, painful, and inglorious death. Adam Green’s Frozen proves this in a terrifically squirm-inducing, guts-twisting way. Beware, there are some mild spoilers ahead.
Frozen is the story of three friends, Dan, Joe, and Parker, who go out for a leisurely day of skiing. Joe is miffed that Dan decided to let his girlfriend Parker intrude on their valuable Bro-Time, and her inexperience on the slopes keeps them from getting any serious runs in. At the end of the day, they bribe a lift operator to let them go back up the mountain for one last ride to try and spice up an otherwise uneventful ski trip. However when they are accidentally stranded fifty feet above the ground until the mountain reopens in a week, things take a quick turn for the terrible. Fear, desperation and frostbite set in, and one of the trio decides maybe they can make the jump. They most definitely do not. Then the wolves arrive. This can’t end well. And things only get worse from there.
The tone of the film is menacing throughout, preying on the natural fears one always has an inkling of when boarding a ski lift. How old and well maintained are those gears? Just how reliable are these cables? What if the winds pick up? What if we fall? Most of us can manage to keep these thoughts out of mind when getting scooped up to ascend a mountain, but they’re in there somewhere. However, from the very beginning of Frozen, the over-cranked, noisy shots of the lift at work suggest nothing other than the thought that this machine is out to get you. Once our heroes are stuck, it seems as if the hills are glaring at them, just waiting for them to meet their horrifying fates. The wolves gaze angrily up at their meals, licking their chops, reminding their victims that they will be eaten alive. There is no escape from tragedy and misery in this film.
When the characters are introduced, none of them come off as especially sympathetic. They’re selfish, they bicker, and no matter how hard you hope, they just won’t die fast enough. In fact, there’s a good 25 minutes of this 90 minute film in which it looks like it may just be a rehash of Open Water, a 2003 film about a pair of scuba diving honeymooners left behind in shark infested waters, which SHOULD be scary, but is ultimately a couple arguing about their relationship while floating in the sea. However, in Frozen, as things get worse, the main characters gain some depth. It’s only as their extraordinary misfortune worsens that we’re given a glimpse into their real humanity, proving them to more than paint by number stereotypes to be greased in order.
Certainly not to be ignored is the matter of the film’s craft. The film is shot entirely practically. That means that the actors were actually stuck in a chairlift 5 stories off the ground for hours at a time, while cameras were craned and hoisted up to shoot at that height. The camera moves are smooth and deliberate, which proves significantly less nauseating than other low, and even high budget horror films (I’m looking at you, Cloverfield) which rely on shaky, disjointing, handheld cameras. Even more deftly handled is the gory special makeup effects. The frostbite, compound fractures, and mauled carcasses are so grotesquely real looking that at each Sundance screening, there have been at least a couple of people who have had to, lets say, quickly excuse themselves from the theater. To give a taste, at one point one of the characters wipes away a tear only to accidentally peel away a piece of frostbitten cheek. It’s unnerving, to say the least.
Frozen is a horror film that, thankfully, does not conform to the recent trends of low budget horror films. It is a small-scale story that explores a commonplace fear that could literally happen to just about anyone. There is no “Well I would have done things differently and made it out OK.” The list of possible outcomes for this scenario is extremely short, no matter how you tackle it. When one is hoping that the characters of this film make it out alright, what they’re really hoping is that it never happens to them.
Frozen opens in theaters February 5th. Check it out.