a zoo in hell


"Frozen": The Biting Cold

A wise horror mentor of mine once pointed out that horror, more often than not, was not about murder or killing but about survival. Most effective horror movies eventually come down to a scene or sequence when someone must make extreme choices in order to survive. As flawed as many of the Saw movies are, they edge out much of their torture brethren because they present characters with these same awful dilemmas.  These films grab the audience by the collar and ask them, point-blank, what would you do?

Frozen is propelled from open to close by these sorts of decisions. A trio of skiers, out for a bit of night-skiing, find themselves alone and trapped by the cold winter around them. This is something I've imagined as I've ridden the last chair lift for the night up into the cold dark. How does the part-time staff know everyone is down from the mountain? The film scenario takes this worry further and has the trio stranded mid-ride in a chair suspended a good two stories over the snow below, after the mountain closes.

Of course, pulling a Lifeboat-esque feature out of just that problem is no small task. However, things get complicated very fast for the trio, and every attempt they make to save themselves only brings them closer to a bad end for all of them. Nature is very unforgiving after all, and as the night gets darker and colder, the trio, or what is left of them, comes face to face with a primal terror that reduces the survival debates to the laws of predator and prey.

I don't know how this movie plays in warmer climes, but as the characters start to rattle their teeth and shudder from the cold, I felt it. I suppose watching it as the first snow fell outside added a little more reality to the screen action, but as much as this is a horror movie, it felt quite real to me. The odds start slim, get slimmer, and Frozen offers no easy way out for the friends or the audience. While on the surface it may look like another cheesy college-kid horror movie, this is a brutal, dark and unforgiving film. Like Jaws, a film it clearly pays homage too, the horror here isn't that it confronts you with an unknown terror, but rather is consumed by terrors which are as real and present for the characters as they could be for the audience.

As tense as the film becomes, it takes awhile to get there. The first twenty minutes are spent on some weak character development which could've taken half the time to cover. This is not a good thing for a film whose very premise sounded shaky to begin with. I almost stopped watching before they even got on the chair lift. You rent the movie knowing the chair is going to get stuck, there's no suspense there, so spending the first half-hour getting them there didn't seem like more than filler. Perhaps the pace was meant to make if feel more real, but it only made me seriously question the filmmaker's abilities. Maybe it was a distraction, a way to lull me into lowering my guard so when things got mean I wasn't really prepared for it. I doubt anyone would gamble several million dollars on a commercial film that's first minutes are designed to alienate the viewer.

The performances are pretty solid, without which the film would be laughable and painful. If you are going to only have three (and fewer) actors, they need to be able to carry a lot of screen time. Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore and Kevin Zegers sell the pain and terror in a real enough way. The script, with the exception of the first act, was well-written and the dialogue felt authentic enough. Directed by Adam Green, the film knows when to look, when to look away, and when to look down. A less imaginative filmmaker would have made the time in the chair lift interminable, but almost every scene in the chair feels like an advance from the previous one.

The weakest point is the opening soundtrack. It's pretty much a lackluster collection of rock riffs which are either supposed to make the boring first act seem really exciting or put us in the mindset of the two dudes that drive the film. Either way, it was grating and made me work even harder to stay interested in the film.

As much as I enjoy supernatural horror, or at least movies with some sort of creepy crawly, I was surprised how engrossed and excited I was once the film dug its teeth into the meat of the story. The film is really a reminder that a simple story of  human struggle against the forces of nature, when well told, can terrify as much, if not more, than any hulking monstrosity of human origin. The great god Pan is a merciless and hungry god, something which modern people perhaps forget too easily. A film like Frozen serves as a welcome reminder that nature, for all of its beauty, will kill you if given half a chance.

Oh, btw, they really filmed it in a suspended chair lift.