When I received my copy of Frozen for review my wife looked at the cover and said: “Oh, it’s about people trapped on a chairlift?” I had heard of the film, and some people’s reaction to it, but nothing of the actual premise. Given Green’s first film, Hatchet, and the fact that Hatchet 2 was due for imminent release, I made what I thought was a safe assumption.
“I don’t think so,” I replied, “I think it’s more of a slasher film set at a ski resort.”
When I sat down and started to watch Frozen, however, I realized that the missus had it pegged perfectly. It was, indeed, a feature length film about three people who get trapped on a chair lift. “What the hell?” I thought to myself, “How could you possibly make an interesting movie around such a thin premise? A short, yeah, sure - but a film? No way.”
Turns out I was wrong again. Frozen is a supremely well-made, well-acted film that manages to do the near impossible: make three people sitting still and talking to each other absolutely riveting. It’s suspenseful and scary in the same way the wilderness survival stories of Jack London or Farley Mowat are– in Frozen the threat isn’t evil, it is chance, coincidence, negligence and the elements. That makes it far more plausible, and thus far scarier.
It’s nearing the end of a weekend ski trip for friends Dan Walker (Kevin Zegers) and Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore). Dan’s girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell) has tagged along to what is usually a guys-only outing and the fact that she doesn’t ski or snowboard has limited the group’s runs the beginner slopes and caused some tension between the more experienced skiers. They decide to salvage their weekend with one last run down a more advance hill. When a series of chance occurrences strands the trio fifty feet above the ground late Sunday night after the ski hill staff has all gone home for the week and, with inclement weather bearing down on them, they need to decide what action to take in order to survive.
It really is the thinnest of premises and on paper sounds like a gimmick film where the novelty would wear thin almost immediately after being established. Green manages to sustain interest by grounding Frozen with well drawn, believable characters. Dan and Joe have an unstudied ease with each other that you’d expect from long-time friends (in the supplements we learn that the actors have been friends since they were young children), while Parker is very clearly an outsider looking in. She’s a nice girl and very eager to please and be accepted as part of the group. Most of us have probably known people like these and can easily relate to them, so we’re pulled in almost immediately from the moment they’re stuck on the lift.
Once they’re on the lift, it would be easy to lose our sympathy by having the characters devolve into excessive squabbling or in-fighting, or by brash action movie scenes. The characters don’t always make the best decision in any given situation, but they always make understandable ones. The actors sell the situation, but they don’t oversell it. Instead of action movie heroics, we get quiet scenes about past break ups and wondering what will happen to a beloved pet if the owner doesn’t make it off the hill. The film maintains focus on the characters and as a result, I maintained focus on the film.
Frozen is really well directed. Adam Green has a surprisingly deft hand when crafting character building moments, as well as when it comes time for suspense sequences. The scene where Dan is killed is sensationally effective because it employ the Hitchcockian technique of trusting the audience enough to let their imagination fill in the blanks. We’re riveted by the performance of the two actors on the chair lift while on the sound track he hear the blood gurgling in Dan’s throat as the wolves tear at his neck. Brutally effective, yet still classy, it shows a shrewdness of directing choice that I really didn’t expect from the director of movie as blunt and unsubtle as Hatchet. I must admit: the scene totally blindsided me with how good it was.
I was so impressed with Frozen for the first hour, that when the tight control Green maintains for so long starts to slip away, it was a crushing disappointment. It’s hard to pin down exactly why the last act of Frozen is so disappointing. In narrative terms it hits all the right notes, ties up all the loose ends and never cheats or goes for cheap effect. Maybe it’s because once the dynamic between the characters is totally gone and the film becomes a one-woman show, I wasn’t directly engaged and the movie became a more passive experience. The story crescendos, but the film never delivers the emotional resolution that it seemed like it was building to. Like Hatchet, Frozen doesn’t end, but just stops and it’s a disappointing and dissatisfying in a movie that had really gotten me involved.
There are a few more nitpicking complaints I could make. For one, the frostbite make up is not as convincing as they could have been, although I can’t really fault the film for that. It seems like much of the budget was earmarked for location shooting and, if I had to choose between the two, I would have picked the verisimilitude of location over high tech effects, as well. Less forgivable is Emma Bell being very clearly not a smoker and scenes where she is required to do so are really, really distracting. After a day of that, it probably would have been a good idea to write that aspect of her character out of the script.
Still, let’s keep it real: if the absolute worst you can say about a movie is that you didn’t want it to end, you know you’ve watched an exceedingly good movie. Frozen misses greatness by the thinnest of margins but, even with its flaws, it is an impressive achievement and solidifies Adam Green as one of the best of the new crop of genre filmmakers working today.
Great care was put into the crafting of Frozen’s visuals. Unlike a lot of low budget films, it was shot on 35mm in an extremely wide aspect of 2.40. The Blu-ray transfer retains much of the film grain, giving it a more natural look. Black levels are spot-on and even in the dimmest scenes, detail is still easily discernable. The muted color palette of white, brown and green is well represented. The establishing shots pack a great amount of detail. There’s no bleeding or smearing of the occasional bright colors (like blood, or the casts’ ski jackets) against the predominantly white background. I didn’t observe any colour banding or other compression issues. My only real caveat is that in the close ups the actor’s faces can be soft and lacking in detail, giving those scenes an overly processed look. Like the film itself, it’s a really strong transfer that just falls short of perfection.
Anchor Bay has provided Frozen with a 5.1 Dolby True HD audio track that is really well balanced and far better than Frozen’s low budget origins would lead you to expect. Dialogue is clean and crisp with no clipping on the high or low end. There’s a lot of effective, but not overpowering, use of surrounds as skiers whoosh by or wolves howl in the distance. During the scenes on the lift, the low end rumbles ominously with the Alpine wind. The score is well represented: subtle when it needs to be, more aggressive in the front during the more exciting sequences. And, of course, Dan’s aforementioned death scene uses the surrounds to gruesome and fantastic effect.
The supplemental package included with Frozen is robust - the video features alone boast a longer running time than the film itself. Even better, there is quality to match the quantity. While it can’t compare to the suite of extras on a top tier studio release, it is still one of the strongest supplemental packages I’ve seen for a low budget, limited release film.
There are two Audio Commentaries. The first, with writer director Adam Green and actors Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore and Emma Bell, eschews the “wasn’t this fun to shoot?” anecdotal approach for a more in-depth discussion of the film and its characters. All four clearly took the film seriously and that seriousness is reflected in their discussion: it’s a lucid, insightful commentary. Lest you think it’s all solemn, they recount a funny story about a man at a test screening whose line of questioning suggests that he thought the film was a documentary!
In comparison, the commentary with Green, Cinematographer Will Barratt and Editor Ed Marx is a bit drier. That’s only in comparison to the first commentary, though. As far as technically oriented commentaries go, this is one of the more engaging ones I’ve listened to. It didn’t quite hold my interest as consistently as the first commentary, but people who are more technically minded will probably get more of this track than I did.
In Catching Frostbite: The Origin of Frozen (10:59) Adam Green shares his inspiration for Frozen. I wasn’t surprised to learn that he first started writing the script while he was in Canada producing Grace; growing up in Canada, the wintry setting of Frozen really spoke to me. He also talks about newly formed production company A Bigger Boat and how producer Peter Block (of Saw fame) really got behind the project from moment one. Green also talks about finding just the right chair lift to film the movie on, and how he settled on a creaky, out of service lift built in 1972.
The second part of the making-of documentaries, Three Below Zero (10:50) details the casting process. Green’s mantra was that he was looking for “terrific actors, not terrific names.” Given that the film as essentially two or three people talking to each other, chemistry between the actors was vitally important. The actors also discuss their concepts for their characters. Throughout the documentary, what struck me was how Green’s approach to actors (an “actor’s director,” who gives the cast the tools they need but allow them to make their own decisions and choices about their performance) really comes through on the screen.
Part three of the documentary section, Shooting Through It (11:17) gives the crew and their fine technical work, their due. It’s is concerned with the crafting of the visuals and the challenges faced while shooting on location in the cold. It offers a peek behind the scenes of one of Frozen most memorable shots: the “leg cam” shot as Dan jumps from the ski lift.
The real meat of the behind the scenes features is in Beating the Mountain (52:55). The nearly hour long documentary really drove home just how tough a shoot this was. Usually these types of features are really boring, but the unusual setting and harsh filming conditions make it a far more interesting watch than you’d expect. While watching Frozen I was struck by how realistically the crew was able to recreate bad weather; turns out they were actually filming during a hailstorm. They also encountered problems when the actors had been outside for too long, and their core temperature lowered too much, their breath stopped appearing as steam. Teetering on the verge of hypothermia for your art? That’s dedication.
The video features can be watched individually or all together as a single feature length documentary.
There’s a collection of three deleted scenes with optional director’s commentary. The first two scenes are character building scenes. Considering that the film is so character driven, it’s understandable that these brief moments were cut for pace. The last scene is an alternate, and far gorier, version of Dan’s death. This is one of those cases where less was definitely more: while the gore is reasonably well done, just hearing Dan gurgling in the background as he’s torn to shred in the final version is far more effective. I’m really glad Adam Green took the riskier route; the film is stronger for it.
Also included is the Theatrical Trailer (1:51) which is actually quite awful. It really undersells the film and makes it look cheap and gimmicky, rather than the classy survival thriller it is. If you’ve only seen the trailer and decided not to watch Frozen because of it, please, please, please disregard it. It is not representative of the finished film.
Finally, there’s Chair 92 (1:36), an Easter egg feature accessible by highlighting the paw print in the special features sub menu. In it, Adam Green briefly talks about a creepy, real life incident that occurred almost exactly where they filmed the movie. I’m sure the story doesn’t have the same effect hearing it in the comfort of your living room as opposed to in the actual location but it’s an interesting tidbit for trivia hounds, nonetheless.
I see a lot of horror and suspense films and a great deal of them are cheap, phone-in jobs by people who didn’t care enough about what they were doing to make a good movie. It is films like that that really make you appreciate a film like Frozen. The love that the filmmakers and cast had for Frozen is visible in every frame. It’s well crafted and acted with aplomb. Likewise, Anchor Bay gives the film a strong technical presentation backed with supplemental material that goes deeper into the filmmaking process than your average talking-head electronic press kit. Frozen is not quite the classic it had the potential to be, but it still most definitely worth your time.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
I too enjoyed it but very doubtful a film I would buy as I see it being a one-time viewing type of movie. Great review.
I personally feel that this film is worthy of a "Gold Award."
I believe that this is Green's "coming of age" film as a director and proof that he may very well be the next Horror "great."
I was looking to buy this on blu-ray but it was never in stock. So I gave in and rented, and I'm glad I did. Even though my wife and I both really liked it, I think once was enough. Good review!
Good movie. Shows that Green isn't a one trick pony. That said, I think the movie's climax leaves a bit left to be desired...it just sort of "ends."
I really liked the film, broke down & bought it on blu-ray. The only thing that sucked was my favorite character didn't make it.
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