Saturday, 9 October 2010

Frozen (Adam Green, 2010) DVD Review

It's an easy sell. Open Water (Chris Kentis, 2003) in a ski-lift? Hitchcock does the Himalayas? Alive (Frank Marshall, 1993) channeled through Cube (Vincenzo Natali, 1997)? None of these do proper justice to Frozen, the claustrophobic chiller from Hatchet (2006) director Adam Green, but all of them perfectly synopsize the thrill-ride delivered by the rising horror star. A group of friends (best buddies and one of their girlfriends) go skiing and get stuck in a lift in the dead of night - wolves circle below and nobody is coming back for a week. From the first P.O.V. shot staring at the cold drop vertigo shoots through the viewers veins - it's going to be tough.

Dan (Kevin Zegers) is the popular guy who regularly goes skiing with the more geeky charmer Joe (Shawn Ashmore) who feels uncomfortable this year as Dan's annoying new girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell) is along for the ride. The first 20 minutes unfold these characters and exposes cracks in each relationship - and gives each of them a reason to feel uneasy with the other in enclosed circumstances. It may have been better to forget all of this and just strand the characters - much like the recent Buried (Rodrigo Cortés, 2010) the film may have benefitted from trapping us straight into the horror, with no reason or explanation (because the one on offer here is so contrived and clunky you can practically hear the plot gears shifting). Initially all of the characters prove a little childish and spoilt - their bickering and sly asides make it difficult to imagine why we should feel for them in the coming hour. But therein lies the beauty of Green's screenplay. From the second the ski-lift stops fear begins to drip off of every frame. The tension begins to ratchet up as the lights go out and the characters realise that they are not alone. They quickly form a tight unison - out goes the bickering and in comes the situation solving. A lesser writer/director would have emphasized the squabble and informed the action through pre-established motives. But what Green understands is that the only motive is escape - and they can only achieve that together. To say any more of the plot would really be to spoil a tight and exciting thriller - but the first catastrophe strikes an especially brutal blow...

Dan realises that help won't be coming to them anytime soon - so he must go and find help himself. He thinks he can make the drop but doesn't count on his body having gone numb. He jumps the steep drop and plummets through the razor-like air. Landing straight on his feet his legs break and his bones shoot straight through his knees. It's a gut wrenching moment that will have your stomach churning and your heart in your mouth. Joe and Parker attempt to help from above but the circling wolves (much like that shark in Open Water) are getting ever-closer and the clouds are obscuring the light of the moon.

Green keeps the action close and develops the relationships in a believable if predictable way; even when he's treading overly-familiar territory the 89 minute film keeps our attention. Thumping drum beats and soft piano can often sentimentalize or soften the blow of a scene - it may have played out much better in complete, desolate silence - but there isn't a moment that goes by where the established tone and atmosphere is lost. Ice melts and re-freezes as day passes and creeps back into night... as the situation grows bleaker and the stakes rise the film becomes even more gripping. It's not perfect, but it is hugely exciting and occasionally wince inducing (minor details like the loss of a glove will later lead to a horrifying wake-up call) and deserves to be seen by everyone... strap yourself in.

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