Starring: Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore and Kevin Zegers
Written and Directed by: Adam Green
Running Time: 1hr 33mins
WINNER – Fright Meter Awards – Best Director (Adam Green)
NOMINEE – Fright Meter Awards – Best Horror Film – Best Actress (Emma Bell), Best Actor (Shawn Ashmore) and Best Supporting Actor (Kevin Zegers)
“The whole movie was shot practically, which means not on a soundstage or green screen, they were always really up there. They probably spent about 4 hours before break and then 5 to 6 hours after break. We kept trying to send up handwarmers to them or hot coffee, but our little rope up to them didn’t really work. They were excited about it because they were in their own element and in the moment. When actors are working on a set, they try to stay in their moment but there’s like 50 people around them in the crew who are talking, laughing, and moving around, but here they were up there, 50 feet off the ground, where they couldn’t really hear anybody on the ground. It was so great to get 3 actors that were willing to do that because when we announced the film, every young actor in Hollywood came out for it until they found out how we were shooting it and then at least 70% of them went running. This was an intimidating script because it rested on the actors, on their faces, giving a performance of a lifetime for 90 minutes.” Director Adam Green – laist.com
Over the years, horror movies have come to rely on the use of fictional monsters, supernatural forces, evil serial killers with the powers to withstand every form of punishment and things that go bump in the night to scare their audiences. However, some filmmakers understand that reality can be just as frightening, if not more so. Films like THE STEPFATHER (1987) and THE HITCHER (1986) are effective because they have the potential to happen in real life. Writer/Director Adam Green’s FROZEN (no, not the Disney film) belongs in this category. It presents a very real “what-if” situation whose effectiveness comes from how the script deals with some genuine fears that the viewer will easily be able to relate to. It’s not only about being caught in a seemingly impossible situation but also tackles fears like those of heights, starvation, abandonment, loss, freezing to death and hopelessness. It’s a film that effectively builds its tension from its use of a credible situation while embracing reality in the emotions and decisions of its characters. Like JAWS, which made people scared to go back into the ocean, FROZEN will make viewers think twice the next time they approach a ski lift in the middle of winter.
The plot at the movie’s center is as simple as they come. Only three characters and one location comprise approximately 90% of the running time. The story revolves around a question that many skiers may have asked while making that long trip up a mountain in a ski lift – “What would happen if the lift stopped and I got stuck up here?” Three college students, Parker, Dan and Lynch decide to make one final ski run before going home. Despite the fact that everything is being shut down for the night due to bad weather, they manage to persuade a lift operator to let them make one more trip up the mountain. Unfortunately, though, in the middle of the journey, the lift stops and all the lights around them are shut off, leaving them in darkness. They have been left behind, forgotten and to make matters worse, it’s the end of the night on Sunday and the ski facility doesn’t open again until Friday morning, five days later. As the cold of the night surrounds them, with the wind chill factor probably below 0°s, the three must figure out a way to safety before they either freeze or starve to death.
Green’s script is an exercise in simplicity and has a realistic approach to the way that the characters are handled. Their decisions may not be the smartest at times, but that is because they are mostly made out of desperation. If the viewers were to put themselves in the shoes of the three characters, they would understand that when a person finds themselves in a hopeless situation, they will try anything they can to save themselves. I have heard and read many criticisms of FROZEN regarding how stupid the characters are and this is not the case. So many viewers who don’t like the film have asked questions like (and I’ve heard this particular example numerous times), “Why don’t the characters just strip off their clothes and tie them together to create a rope to climb down?” Of course, this would be incredibly stupid because not only are they on a small chair lift, which would make it hard to get their clothes off, but they would also freeze to death before having the chance to climb out of their predicament. It would seem that most criticisms come from people sitting at home wanting to think that if it were them, they would have no issues figuring out a way to survive. However, Green’s script is smarter than that. The characters act like real human beings, making choices that seem realistic for people that are in a life-threatening situation where they may not be thinking straight. Their minds are overwhelmed with confusion and desperation, causing them to make mistakes. Green makes it easy for the viewer to understand that it wouldn’t be so simple to get out of such a predicament safely.
When most filmmakers may have opted to shoot this film within the warmth and safety of a sound stage in front of a green screen, one of the smartest choices that Green made was to shoot everything practically. The actors are actually suspended 50 feet above the ground on a real chair lift with the winter cold and strong winds surrounding them, adding to the realistic tone of the story. There is no CGI or green screen used, which must have made the filming conditions very uncomfortable for the actors, benefiting the movie-watching experience as viewers will be able to feel their very real discomfort come through in each performance. Even the wolves that come into play are real, as apposed to the fake CGI wolves we would get in movies today.
In contrast to his HATCHET films, Green realized that for this particular story to work, he needed to tone down the intense gore he is known for and focus more on human emotions. In one specific scene, a character is killed in an unavoidable death (This is not a spoiler – it’s a horror movie, so someone has to die eventually) while the other two characters watch helplessly. It’s a powerful scene because, although parts of it are horrifying to watch, the scene itself is handled in a very emotional way by focusing on the two who have to watch their friend die and the emotional state it puts them in rather than simply relying on shock value, ultimately making the scene more horrifying.
A lot of the film’s emotions fall on the shoulders of the three lead actors, Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, and Kevin Zegers, as they are the only three characters on the screen for the majority of the time. All three actors do a great job of conveying the emotions of fear and desperation that their characters experience. However, it is their relationships and how they treat each other during the ordeal that gives the movie its strength. I particularly enjoyed the character development moments between Parker and Lynch. Both Bell and Ashmore deliver excellent performances in these scenes, as their characters have a lot to reveal about themselves while also learning about each other.
FROZEN is a movie that will effectively scare and disturb viewers, but not through the use of typical horror tropes such as monsters, violence or explicit gore. Instead, it relies on reality to evoke the emotions of sympathy and fear. The plot centers around an idea that could realistically unfold in the real world, leaving an overall impact on the audience that will make them think twice before getting on another chairlift and not just at a ski resort. The best horror movies are the ones that leave a lasting impression, and “Frozen” does this in both an emotional and intense way.
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