US (dir. Adam Green)
Cast: Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers, Ed Ackerman
Synopsis: A typical day on the slopes turns into a chilling nightmare for three snowboarders when they get stranded on the chairlift before their last run. As the ski patrol switches off the night lights, they realize with growing panic that they’ve been left behind dangling high off the ground with no way down. With the resort closed until the following weekend and frostbite and hypothermia already setting in, the trio is forced to take desperate measures to escape off the mountain before they freeze to death. Once they make their move, they discover with horror that they have much more to fear than just the frigid cold. As they combat unexpected obstacles, they start to question if their will to survive is strong enough to overcome the worst ways to die?
Review: You may, or may not remember my particularly scathing review of “Hatchet” where I not so subtly referred to director Adam Green as a “talentless hack” (although I think the word I actually used was “fuckface”). To be honest, I never expected that one year later I would be praising his newest work as one of the best of the year, but hey, I suppose miracles do happen. Not only is “Frozen” a fantastic horror film, but a technically astounding, well-scripted one to boot. I can hardly believe that this was written and directed by the same guy who made this crap not too long ago.
You really don’t need to be a fan of survival-based horror films to appreciate how truly great “Frozen” is. The film proves to be a very tense, nail-biter of a horror-thriller for all 93 minutes of run-time. Three friends stuck on a ski hill chairlift during a brutal winter storm is the kind of simple set-up that makes you wonder why no one has ever thought of it before. Add in some wolves who prove to not quite live up to their New England pussy-wolf stereotype and some compelling character drama, and Adam Green has concocted the perfect winter horror film, the kind best reserved for watching on those cold winter nights when you’re snuggled up at home and it’s snowing brutally outside. It’s that winter-time horror movie niche that films like “The Shining” have had a monopoly over for decades, but now along comes “Frozen” to make your cozy movie night a little more chilly.
Of course, the film is not without its flaws, one being the absolutely preposterous “are you kidding me?!” moments which lead to our three main characters being stranded on a chairlift and the chain of coincidences that contribute to their eventual demise. And of course, this being a horror film and all, we have to put up with the obligatory cell phone issue, which is at least explained simply enough by Shawn Ashmore’s character as “I don’t ski with my cell phone on me.” A fair enough explanation for a lack of communication, one that is easily more believable than the countless “there’s no reception” or “I dropped my cell phone” excuses.
In “Frozen”, Green takes a more dramatic approach to the horror genre, a direct contrast to his stupidly silly and ridiculously over-the-top “Hatchet” (which you know is a film I just love to hate on). The unexpected character drama works marvelously. Not only are there the natural elements for our characters to contend with (and those big, bad, non-CGI wolves) but our trio of skiers spends considerable time revealing themselves naturally to the audience, making for characters that are not only believable but incredibly easily to identify with. Emma Bell, in a tear-jerker of a moment, expresses her fear that her puppy will starve to death if she doesn’t come home to feed him. And in a moment of absolute despair, she breaks down with the thought that the animal will die feeling as though she abandoned it. Shawn Ashmore (“The Ruins”), in a solid, A+ performance that has now cemented his place as one of the genres’ best up-and-coming young actors, evolves from the film’s insensitive jock to the unlikely hero in such a perfectly believable way, all the while bringing an incredible amount of depth to what could have easily been a one-dimensional character, solely written into the script for comic relief. It is both Ashmore and Bell that really make this movie what it is in terms of incredible character development. Their dialogue needn’t be witty, nor laced with tongue-in-cheek pop culture references to feel absolutely real and believable, which it undeniably is. The two actors play off each other spectacularly, and you really couldn’t have asked for better characters to be watching stuck on a chair lift for a good hour or so.
What baffles me is that despite the excellent and unexpected character development, the element of human drama, and the fact that the film is a particularly well-restrained sort of horror film (especially in the gore department), there are critics going out of their way to bad mouth it. Even more confusing, those same critics tend to be, more often than not, fans of “Hatchet”. Confusing, right? Many of the complaints toward the film revolve around the “if it was me I would have done ____ instead” argument which I kind of resent since I feel as though the characters reacted quite believably to their situation. And is anyone else tired of the “they should have done ____” speech? Because I sure as hell am. I mean, it’s a movie right? Not a friggin’ “How-To…” winter survival guide. Take it as it is folks! Furthermore, the complaints about the special effects really irk me too. Not only did Green film this on an actual chair lift in the middle of a Utah ski resort, but he used real wolves! Even the broken bones, frost bite, and sliced up hands look authentic, so can someone please tell me what it is exactly that looks so blatantly “fake” in the effects department? I would think most other directors, faced with a similar project, would avoid shooting on location and/or using live animals and would take the easy CGI route instead. So if anything, Green should be commended for sticking to the old-fashioned way of making film, rather than berated for having a few wounds look mildly artificial.
I honestly look forward to Adam Green’s next, non-“Hatchet” film with much enthusiasm, because if “Frozen” is any indication of his true talent, then we all have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
Note: This review is a part of the Final Girl Film club.