A worthwhile entry in the stranded-and-must-survive sub-category of the horror genre, Frozen stars Shawn Ashmore (Iceman in the X-Men film series, appropriately enough), Kevin Zegers (Dawn of the Dead (2004), Transamerica), and newcomer Emma Bell.
Three college students, Dan (Zegers), his girlfriend Parker (Bell), and Dan's childhood friend, Joe (Ashmore) spend a Sunday at a ski resort – mostly babysitting Parker who is a complete novice at skiing as compared to Dan and Joe. Joe is somewhat resentful about Parker's tagging along on the guys' ski trip, which prevented them from getting any real heavy duty skiing in. Deciding, as night begins to fall, to go up the mountain for one last run before heading home, they find themselves stranded on the ski lift when, due to a miscommunication between the resort staff crew, the ski lift is shut down before the three get to the mountain top, and the resort is closed for the week and not scheduled to reopen until five days later for the next weekend.
In Frozen, the terror comes from that feeling of growing uneasiness as the full hopelessness of the dilemma begins to reveal itself in stages. This is psychological terror, not the assembly line of "boo!" moments that makes up the running time of the typical horror flick. Here, the cast is kept small, the setting kept appropriately bleak, and the tension ebbs and flows throughout – a quiet scene only exists to explore the characters and to lull the audience into a false sense of security before the next harrowing development in these young people's ordeal.
Written and directed by Adam Green, Frozen is not a perfect film, but its successes are more apparent than its shortcomings. As director, Green knows how to keep the action flowing and the suspense taut. Mounting desperation convinces Kevin Zegers' character, Dan, to attempt a jump from the ski lift on to the ground at least 50 feet below. He does so, but succeeds in breaking both his legs with shattered bone protruding through flesh. It isn't long before he's surrounded by a pack of ravenous wolves and devoured as his friend and girlfriend still high up in the chair can do nothing but avert their eyes to their friend's fate.
With Zegers out of the film and at least 35 minutes left to go, we are left with Parker and Joe. All three actors give good performances here, but once Joe and Parker are left alone together, we get deeper into the characters' backstories and Shawn Ashmore begins to shine and bring his performance to the forefront as he must now act as protector to his dead friend's girlfriend. Stories are exchanged, and confidences are shared between the two who must now rely on each other in order to survive. Newcomer Emma Bell does a great job commanding her role, and taking a character that could have been seen as an intrusive shrill annoyance in the hands of a less capable actor and turning her into a sympathetic heroine.
The aforementioned shortcomings of Frozen stem not from its direction. Marketing copy in the form of pull quotes on the box art compares Green to Hitchcock – what, not Orson Welles as well? That's pure hyperbole, of course – Green is not the second coming of Hitchcock, but as stated, Green does know how to build and maintain suspense quite effectively while creating an atmosphere of dread in order to keep the viewer's nerves on edge. Further, he creates set pieces that stay with you after the film has ended. No, any issues the film may have had derive from its script.
For a film like this to work, plausibility is crucial and mandatory. While the predicament is handled plausibly in most places once it's underway, getting there had its share of flaws. A writer is allowed to have a single coincidence in his or her story in order to propel the plot where it needs to go, but Frozen is a chain reaction of worst case scenarios – a perfect snowstorm of bad luck that verges way too closely to parody at times.
The kids get stranded on the lift in the first place because, not two seconds after the kids are headed up the mountain, the lift operator finds out that his work schedule has changed and must leave to complain to his boss. The new lift operator is told that there are still three kids left to come down before the equipment can be shut off. However, there just happens to be three other kids already on the slope skiing their way down as Dan, Joe, and Parker are on their way up, and they get mistaken for our heroes.
After the kids have been dangling up there for awhile, with not a cell phone among them of course, the original lift operator starts driving toward them in his Snowcat vehicle. The kids start screaming to him from above, but, wouldn't you know it, at just that moment, a call comes in to the driver to return to base. When the trio finally get the bright idea to throw some of their equipment down toward the vehicle to attract the driver's attention, he doesn't see it because at just that moment, he's turning his head away as if he's backing out of his driveway.
And why exactly did the girlfriend go up with the guys for that final run, again? The guys said that they didn't get the chance to have a really epic run down the mountain because of Parker's lack of experience, so how exactly were they going to achieve that memorable run if they dragged her up with them once more?
The finale also has an unexpectedly funny moment as the surviving character or characters – no spoilers here – slide past the wolf pack and are essentially just waved through by the beasts without issue as they continue to chomp on one of the other characters. We felt this fell a little flat as the surviving characters must go through more than their fair share of horror in order to justify their survival over the others. Here, the one or ones that suffered the least were the ones who were allowed to survive. That final cathartic release that serves as the climax to any great horror movie was simply not present here. Adam Green definitely has talent, and is worth watching for in the future, but if he is going to continue both to write and direct, he needs to tighten up his scripts going forward.
Techically, the disc is well done with nice a nice transfer and decent atmospheric 5.1 sound effects. There are also some well done behind-the-scenes featurettes and a few minutes of deleted scenes. Finally, the three leads join writer/director, Adam Green for a full-length audio commentary.
Overall, this film has enough to recommend it for a rental as it is a welcome change of pace from the usual slasher piece that makes up the bulk of the horror genre. The quieter, more everyday dilemma often yields the most effective terror because it's something that is not so far outside the realm of possibility that the viewer can safely remain an impartial innocent bystander while watching the story unfold. This is definitely a case where the viewer is compelled to insert himself into the story and play out the various obstacles and choices in his or her own mind, and this film convincingly assures us that if we were in that exact same situation – no matter about the string of coincidences that got us there – that it would have played out for us with the same unnerving finality that it did for the characters in the story. A good effort from Mr. Green this time, and we want to see him up his game in the future.