Frozen is yet another entry into the man vs. nature survival picture genre, joining the ranks of Open Water and its ilk. Films like this live and die by the empathy level of the audience, not to mention their ability to place themselves in the exact situation. Frozen, which tells the story of three unfortunate college kids stuck on a chairlift at a ski resort, would seem ripe for the picking in terms of tearing down the premise and mocking the characters’ life and death decisions to stay alive. While some will do just that, they’ll be missing the point. Writer/director Adam Green has crafted a very effective suspense/thriller that works on multiple levels.
The film tells the story of three friends who spend the day at a local ski resort. There are longtime friends Dan (Zegers) and Joe (Ashmore), as well as Dan’s girlfriend, Parker (Bell). Parker’s inclusion annoys Joe, who sees the trip as a way to catch up with his buddy, who’s been off at college. On top of that, Parker is a beginner on the slopes and the group spends the day on the bunny hill. As night falls, the trio sees the opportunity for one more run down a tougher hill. They convince the lift operator to let them make the run, but through a series of misunderstandings, the lift gets shut down, leaving the three thirty feet off the ground with a snowstorm approaching. Worst of all: the resort doesn’t open back up for another five days.
With a static locale and only three characters, it would seem as if Green has really stacked the deck against himself. While the opening act is fairly standard “get to know the characters” kind of stuff, the latter two-thirds is nothing short of terrifying, heartbreaking, and harrowing. Green finds a way to exploit the fears of anyone trapped in such a situation, be it the fear of heights, fear of freezing to death, or fear of the unpleasant nature waiting below. The script allows us to get to know the characters, and we care about their fates. Frozen represents a departure from Green’s 80’s splatter homage, Hatchet, and the guy really has chops when it comes to genre film making.
The performances are similarly impressive, led by newcomer Emma Bell. She’s convincing as the scared girlfriend, and a heart-rending monologue about her dog’s fate should she die only adds to depth to an already-involving picture. Kevin Zegers and Shawn Ashmore add similar depth to what could have otherwise been cardboard cutout characters, though they aren’t given quite as big of a load to carry. Green’s decision to shoot the film aboard a real chairlift during inclement weather really brings out the best in his actors, not to mention adding a palpable sense of realism to the tale.
Frozen is a bleak experience, one where you never really get the feeling that things are going to turn out well. Green has kept the film as barren as possible, even down to his strategic use of cringe-inducing gore that seems way too realistic in comparison to his over-the-top tribute in Hatchet. While making the occasional narrative misstep, this is effective low-budget filmmaking, and undoubtedly a notch better than what usually passes as suspense these days.
Studio: Anchor Bay Films
Length: 93 Minutes
Rating: R for some disturbing images and language.
Theatrical Release: February 5, 2010 (Limited)
Directed by: Adam Green
Written by: Adam Green
Cast: Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers, Ed Ackerman, Rileah Vanderbilt