Review: The Smart Scares of Frozen

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I love the straightforward and streamlined gall of Frozen. Here’s a horror film that’s confident enough to abandon superficial scares – you know, those jump-cuts that catch you off guard and make you jolt – in favor of a concept that works on a far more insidious, intellectual level. Three skiers are stuck on a chairlift, about 20 or 30 feet up in the air, at a ski resort that won’t be open again for a good four days. And a winter storm’s coming in. That’s pretty much it. The drama stems from how they react, emotionally and physically, in this Kobayashi Maru/no-win situation.

Now I started the thing arms crossed and skeptical, sure that there would be a whole array of obvious things these characters wouldn’t think to try. I was convinced this would be one of those infuriating Idiot plots, where if they had only done this or that, they would have been home free in a second.

But Frozen, thankfully, is better than that. It turns out this trio of stranded souls tries to do precisely all the things I would have done  – only to then pay the price time and again for their failures.

The three stranded skiers are Joe (Shawn Ashmore, of the X-Men films, who we interviewed yesterday), Dan (Kevin Zegers) and Parker (Emma Bell). Dan and Parker are dating; Joe’s the womanizing, arrogant and aloof friend. As the crew of three is reduced to two, and then one, we start to realize that the surface personality of each skier differs greatly from who they really are underneath. Dan is the winning, charismatic nice guy who is a little too eager to take one for the team. Joe is the surface asshole who, when you come right down to it, is nursing some serious insecurities. Parker, the chipper girlfriend, is in reality far tougher than her male counterparts. She may have the early appearance of a terrified damsel in distress, but she’s nowhere near as frail as we might imagine. (More on Techland: The best sci-fi films of the decade)

Writer and director Adam Green told us last week that the idea for this film has percolated in his mind for years. It was always his fear, to be trapped up this high, in brutal weather conditions. And towards those ends, he gets the look and tempo of Frozen just right. The isolation and fear, the anger and resolve, the weather and the unpredictability of the natural elements, all feels palpable here. The situation may seem extreme, but the story looks and sounds realistic. For its first half, with a bare minimum of plot devices or gore, Frozen is a freaky little spectacle – and a believable one to boot. For me, the most terrifying moment might be when two of the trio are forced to watch as the third dies in a most horrific way. This notion of being so near the death of someone close is scary not just as a bloody bit of carnage but as a form of psychological torture. Imagine being forced to watch your best friend die. This is creepy stuff.

Sadly, Frozen does have to pull a few tricks out of the bag near the end of the arc – offering up a major twist that allows us to reach a solid conclusion. I don’t hold this against the movie. It plays fair for the first half of the film, and perhaps that’s enough. Once you’re invested in their plight, and fully buy into not just their resourcefulness but their utter despair, the twist only serves to alter the context of the group. One by one the group shrinks in size, and that nudges the drama forward. The dynamic shifts. People show their true colors. If it takes one big twist to get us there, I guess I understand.

I can’t say too much more without giving away all the goodies, but if you liked Paranormal Activity, or something like Open Water, which was basically about two people floating in water as they freak out about sharks, then I think Frozen is right up your alley. It’s a smart, character-driven glimpse of an impossibly bleak scenario. It dares you think about how you would confront the brink. And it’s yet another in a long line of horror films that proves sometimes less is more.

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