Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review: FROZEN

Three films into his career as a filmmaker, Adam Green has shown great range. Hatchet: cheeky horror-comedy with geysers of gore. Spiral: Hitchcockian character study that leaves much to the imagination. And now, Frozen, a survival thriller both touching and terrifying, restrained and retch-inducing in equal measure.

Adam Green

The setup is simple: three twentysomethings are stuck on a chairlift as a ski resort closes for a week. The execution is admirable: no forced "found footage" device and no flashbacks. Green never strays far from the lift, staying with the characters as they fend with frostbite, wolves, each other, and their own increasingly fragile psyches. In early scenes, the casting seems questionable. As best friends Dan and Joe, real-life best friends Kevin Zegers and Shawn Ashmore appear a bit too pretty to be immediately relatable, and as Dan's girlfriend Parker, Sarah Polley-ish newcomer Emma Bell seems a little raw - it's unclear if the insecurity on display is that of a character, or of an actress making her big screen debut. But as soon the lift's motor goes maddeningly silent, these actors come crackling to life, communicating palpable dread, regret, resentment, and sheer terror from one moment to the next - all while suspended fifty feet above frozen earth.  

How refreshing it is to watch a modern thriller whose suspense is not generated by vampires, aliens, zombies, CIA assassins or CGI robots. Green prefers to explore primal fears. Fear of abandonment. Fear of the dark. Of heights. Confinement. Nature (its conditions and creatures alike). Losing someone we love. Letting someone down who loves us. And fear of rejection, beautifully essayed in a monologue by Shawn Ashmore, doing revelatory work here.

Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore

Will Barratt's stark yet rich cinematography proves indies need not look like shit to feel real. Likewise, Green, who did much of the camerawork himself, doesn't get in-your-face shaky when he goes handheld.  

Some have quibbled over the heroes not being equipped with cell phones. To them I say this: They're freakin' snowboarding; they left their phones in their room to charge and not get broken should they wipe out on the slopes. Young people enjoying a day of outdoor recreation without Facebooking, tweeting or playing Bejeweled makes them likable, not stupid. If a phone was in the equation, the same critics would be bemoaning the inevitable refrain of, "I don't have a signal! Do you have a signal?!"

If a misstep is made, it's the musical score. What's composed by Andy Garfield is effective, yes, but more often than not its needless, underlining emotional notes the actors are already nailing.

Open Water is the movie that keeps coming up in discussions of Frozen, but for this writer, a more recent, popular title springs to mind: Paranormal Activity. Not a fan. Relentlessly stupid characters and a narrative largely dictated by questionable improv outweighed the clever concept. Frozen likely had a budget ten times that of Paranormal's 15 grand, doesn't employ found footage, and isn't supernatural, so why the comparison? Because Frozen actually
deserves the $100 million-plus banked by P.A.

Frozen expands its theatrical release this weekend. Check the film's official site to see if it'll be in your area. If not, have your theater email; distributor Anchor Bay has vowed to supply a print to any theater that's interested. Oh, and if you're going to ignore the bad buzz and check out The Wolfman, wait a weekend or two. Support original, indie horror this weekend.

Zegers, Green, Ashmore and Bell at Sundance