While producing Paul Solet’s Grace (2009), Adam Green was writing the first draft of what became his best film to date. Frozen is a simple tale of three people stranded in a chairlift, exposed to the severe elements of -30 degree nights, teasing snow & sleet, nasty frostbite, and a few other toothy surprises.
Ostensibly a B-movie, the low-budget production was shot entirely on location in Utah and actually put the cast 50 feet above ground on a mountaintop. There’s virtually no cheating in Frozen: three characters stuck in a chairlift, and it’s a gripping, often tense drama that few directors could’ve pulled off with such finesse.
The surprise of Frozen being so solid is understandable when one considers Green’s biggest hit – Hatchet (2006) – and his reputation as a satirical gorehound, but Frozen is played straight, and the horror largely comes from the actors credible performances as couple Dan (Wrong Turn’s Kevin Zegers) and Parker (Emma Bell) give their relationship one last chance while best friend and third wheel Joe (X-Men’s Shawn Ashmore) tags along, quietly bearing the slow disintegration of what was a perfect best friend relationship with childhood buddy Dan.
Their group’s predicament stems from a simple sneaky trick to get onto a chairlift for one last run down the hill, and a series of mistakes that make it clear they’re alone for potentially 5 days before the park opens.
Green’s characters are simple, average, and wholly identifiable, but neither the dialogue nor the performances are terribly clichéd, and while most of the drama takes place above ground – and could easily have been faked in a studio – there are regular camera moves and angles that remind audiences the actors are really way up in the chilly air.
Will Barratt’s cinematography is gorgeous in 2.40:1 ‘scope, and the lighting feels natural, beautiful, and claustrophobic. The framing is elegant, and the editing allows audiences to bond with the characters without the interruption of showy cuts and shock montages.
Andy Garfield’s score is almost stealth, drifting in among the natural sounds and rearing itself during the film’s main trauma sequences. Often based around minimalist motifs, Garfield focuses on quiet dread, and keeps the characters engaging during eerie montages where Barratt’s lens emphasizes their helplessness during the night, and the beautiful daytime sun as picturesque mountains and trees belie the horror of being utterly trapped.
Simple solutions are tested, and the real horror comes from realizing there really is no safe way to get down, and efforts to reach the ground soon put the characters in very different dangers.
A major shocker is a pack of wolves, and a specific sequence where a character is torn to shreds while the remaining two can’t do a thing to assist, and Green focusing on the actors’ reactions without detailing any of the trauma below. It’s a terrifying scene that wouldn’t have made an impact with brutally detailed cutaways, and that fact is illustrated by an alternate edit in which Green shot the wolves’ attack for protection in case foreign distributors wanted more blood. Showcased in a deleted scenes gallery, the attack is nasty, but it completely cheapens the characters and changes the film from a tragedy of ill-events to a disposable shocker.
Audiences have been conditioned to expect easy solutions and cheap scares, but Green avoids them right to the end credits, which is surprising and commendable because it ensures Frozen will age into a small horror classic with a lingering, solid reputation as a must-see shocker.
Anchor Bay’s DVD comes loaded with the same detailed, flattering extras as Hatchet, including an audio commentary with Green and his three main actors, deleted scenes and a series of making-of featurettes on the production, concluding with a 52 mins. documentary that keeps reinforcing the on-location filming. The Blu-ray edition includes a second commentary track with Green and cinematographer Barrett.
One of the best shockers of 2010.
© 2010 Mark R. Hasan