There’s a singular moment in writer/director Adam Green’s intensely suspenseful 2010 survival yarn “Frozen” that made me realize I’d completely sold the film short. After a particularly heart-wrenching event involving Parker’s (Emma Bell) heroic boyfriend, the emotionally distraught and understandably panicked twenty-something begins to worry about the state of her new puppy, which is presently all by its lonesome in her apartment. It’s a brilliantly written and wonderfully executed scene, causing this admittedly hard-hearted horror fan to wipe away a few reluctant tears that had begun to creep towards the corners of his eyes. In essence, it sealed the deal.
When was the last time you could honestly say that a genre film made you cry? Hell, when was the last time you watched a horror flick where you actually wanted the characters to live to see the inevitable sequel? Therein lies the beauty of Green’s surprisingly effective thriller: instead of relying on convention, cliché, and cheap gore, this increasingly impressive director opts to explore the emotional and psychological aspects of this very believable scenario. That’s not to say that Green isn’t above grossing you out; in fact, the bond he creates between these unfortunate characters and the audience makes the eventual descent into blood-soaked terror that much harder to handle.
Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers, and the aforementioned Emma Bell star as a trio of snowy vacationers who, after a decidedly lackluster experience on the slopes, smoothly sweet talk one of the lift operators into letting them venture to the top for one last run down the mountain. The guy reluctantly agrees, though his attention is turned elsewhere once the group is on their way up the lift. A bit of confusion regarding the number of adrenaline junkies remaining in the resort quickly sets in, and before they know precisely what’s going down, our heroes find themselves stuck on a ski lift that’s dangling several dozen feet above the ground. As such, the group begins to freak out, especially once they realize that all of the employees are gone until the following weekend.
Panic sets in almost immediately, and tensions increase to an almost fevered pitch. As these college chums begin to piece together a plan, Parker’s boyfriend comes to the questionable conclusion that no one’s going to rescue them before they die, and if they want to make it off the mountain with their lives intact, someone’s going to have to jump off the lift. Seeing as how this is a horror picture, the boyfriend’s landing doesn’t go as he’d hoped, and the ensuing carnage is enough to send thousands of shivers down even the most misshapen of spines. What’s worse: the area is swarming with wolves, all of which are in the mood for a nibble or two of human flesh.
It’s at this point in “Frozen” when you begin to realize that Green isn’t going to play nice, regardless of how uncommonly sweet and light-hearted the first half of the picture might be. And while the film’s greatest strength is definitely the effortless tense and phenomenally well-written script, Green’s snappy collection of up-and-coming young actors certainly bring quite a bit to the cinematic table. Watching them attempt to free themselves from their precarious predicament quickly becomes a harrowing, unnerving experience, especially once individual desperation sets in. Thankfully, Green never rocks the proverbial boat, keeping the tone nice and even throughout. Although some may fault the film for it’s somewhat downbeat finale, the story honestly couldn’t end any other way.
For those of you who feel that American horror is hopelessly stale, unapologetically lifeless, and rife with an endless supply of lackluster efforts, Adam Green’s “Frozen” should seem like a breathe of fresh air. Considering how much I despised “Hatchet” — the insanely overrated slasher flick that splattered Green all over the Hollywood map — I’m actually quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this thoughtfully understated endeavor. Outside of “Burning Bright” and Tim Six’s acclaimed freak-out “The Human Centipede”, “Frozen” is easily the most suspenseful and thrilling indie you’re likely to discover this year. If nothing else, it will certainly make you think twice before catching one last run down the slopes before closing time. Unless, of course, you’re into frost bite and wolf attacks.
Adam Green (director) / Adam Green (screenplay)
CAST: Emma Bell … Parker O’Neil
Shawn Ashmore … Joe Lynch
Kevin Zegers … Dan Walker
Ed Ackerman … Jason
Rileah Vanderbilt … Shannon
Kane Hodder … Cody
Adam Johnson … Rifkin
Chris York … Ryan