Frozen (2010)

Frozen first published by Sight & Sound, October 2010

Review: “Will do for skiing what Jaws did for swimming,” screams the pull quote (from Brad Miska’s review for placed at the very centre of the US poster campaign for Adam Green’s Frozen. It is an association in fact overtly forged by Green’s film, which after all opens with the prominent ident for production company A Bigger Boat, and features a scene (of ironic foreshadowing, as it will turn out) in which character Dan Walker (Kevin Zegers) expressly discusses Jaws and suggests that seeing the fin coming towards you would be even worse than actually being eaten. Certainly Green is a fan of Steven Spielberg (Frozen also includes an allusion to Spielberg’s E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial) – but as an analogue for Green’s film, a more apposite shark movie than Jaws would be its realist cousin Open Water (2003), in which, as in Frozen, fun-seeking excursionists are accidentally left behind to face unforgiving nature and their own mortality. And just as Open Water was filmed exactly where its title suggests (and with all-too-real sharks circling), so Frozen too was shot practically, fifty feet in the air in genuinely freezing outdoor conditions.

Want high concept? Frozen dishes up three college students stranded aloft in a ski lift. Want suspense? They are literally dangling in mid-air, with only a crippling fall between them and the hungry wolves below. Want tension? Their chair is held in place by a taut (and razor-sharp) cable – that will eventually begin to snap. “You can’t”, as Dan puts it early in the film, “talk about real life shit while we’re up here” – and so Green pares his snowbound genre piece down to its barest essentials, on vacation from any sociopolitical concerns beyond its own thrills, and not even anchored (as Open Water was, however loosely) to a real-life story. It is the cinematic equivalent of whiteout – and yet into this cold, desolate space, Green manages to bring some much-needed warmth by carefully investing in the human element. During the film’s breezy opening scenes, we get to see Dan’s romance with girlfriend Parker O’Neil (Emma Bell) and bromance with best friend Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore) come into awkward conflict, comically exposing the petty problems of this essentially carefree trio before overshadowing them with the far more serious life-or-death dilemmas that will shortly follow. By focusing on characterisation (with the help of some credible performances) and presenting the film’s more gruesome aspects with the sort of tasteful restraint that was entirely missing from his earlier Hatchet (2006), Green ensures that his horror, though elemental, is always personal too. Frozen might not take you anywhere especially new or leave you with much to ponder, but for the duration of the ride, you will be as rooted to your seat and as caught in Green’s icy grip as his hapless, helpless threesome, with the realisation slowly dawning that it is all likely to be downhill from here.

Synopsis: New England, USA. After bribing skilift operator Jason to let them on without tickets, college students Dan Walker, Joe Lynch and Parker O’Neil spend the whole Sunday on the slopes of Mount Holliston. Dan and Joe, best friends since the first grade, have been coming to the snow together for years – but Parker’s snowboarding inexperience, smoking habit and romance with Dan ensure that there is far less warmth between her and Joe.

As night falls, the trio goes for one last run before the resort shuts down for the week. As they are on their way up, Jason is called away, and in the ensuing confusion the chairlift is switched off with Dan, Joe and Parker still aboard, suspended high above the ground in rapidly dropping temperatures.. When the lights go out and they fail to attract the attention of the last departing snowplough driver, they realise that no-one knows they are there. Dan decides to jump to the snow below – but his legs suffer multiple fractures in the fall, immobilising him. Joe tries swinging along the cable to the next chair, but heads back, his hands lacerated, to comfort Parker as Dan is killed by a wolf pack below. The following day, as frostbite and exhaustion set in, Joe climbs up the chair (partially dislodging the screw that holds it up), painfully swings along the cable again and clambers down a supporting pylon’s ladder. With wolves in pursuit, he races downhill on the snowboard, promising to return.

Parker wakes the next morning, and stands up, leaping from the chair as it collapses to the ground. Her foot crushed, she drags herself down hill, passing the wolf pack as it feeds on Joe’s body. Parker makes it to the road, where a passing car picks her up.

© Anton Bitel