There is a fantastic mechanism/conceit at play in DVD marketing that (much like Guardian Angels and half of Modern Talking) relies on the guiding hand of one bigger and better and, even at this early stage in the process already immeasurably more profitable and respected, to provide a favourable comparison or counterpoint to the inferior, in the hopes of bandwagon-hopping and piggy-backing. Fantastic, yes, both in its often very clever wordplay and sheer opportunism. Successful, very rarely, if ever. The unfortunate part of this is that the better of the two films (99.9% of the time the former) will emerge from this comparison with its reputation intact, enhanced even, when held up against such a donkey.
"Terrifying! Will do for skiing what 'Jaws' did for swimming." - Brad Miska, bloody-disgusting.com
The poor film lumbered with the above crutch is Frozen (dir. Adam Green, 2010), and the effects of the awful neologism can be felt throughout the film. Whilst more than adroitly shot and acted, the film is no Jaws (itself looking more and more the B-movie it always was), which is unfortunate. Given the chance to stand free of its perceived influences (read: inferred sources) Frozen actually has a lot going for it, for a while. It then buckles under one too many problems.
What starts as a typical skiing holiday rapidly, and then not so rapidly, turns into a long, very cold, very dark night of the soul. The plot is fairly obvious, but effective. A group of friends, amiable twenty-somethings, spend their weekends skiing up and down some beautifully apt snowy landscapes, and use these trips to sort out their interpersonal problems. The three of them fall into a nice little narrative structure (cute, yet totally self-reliant (hah!) blonde woman (Emma Bell); clean-cut, athletic, current boyfriend (Kevin Zegers) and cute tearaway ex-boyfriend (Shawn Ashmore); that requires of them only that they end up stuck and lost in an inhospitable place. And this is just what happens, because of miscommunication and bad-luck. The three of them bribe their way on to a ski-lift which we the audience know is not going to get even half-way up the slope. Hence they find themselves trapped on a suspended rollercoaster chair as all the lights go out and the winter cold steels in. The first few moments of being trapped, as the three proceed through the various stages of disbelief, unbelief, denial and then shouting are particularly tense. Even though we've seen the trailer and read that damn quote. But it does an admirable job of making the predicament seem rather unpleasant. Which is probably just as well really, as much of the later dialogue between Emma Bell and Shawn Ashmore just would not be possible in an atmosphere of calm and security, and it's almost as if the drama demanded a frozen preppie.
There is much time spent with the characters, sitting around on the lift talking, which is all good and well and actually helps to increase the tension; though only for a certain while as we are made all the more aware of their fate the longer this middle section of the film plays out; dramatic irony used under its nom de plume: predictability. Then there are the wolves (which will no doubt have received a lot of attention in the trailers,) doing presumably what hungry feral hunters do, and then there is the derring-do. All this leads to a smattering of heroism and a splash of failure, followed by a blort of resignation and a chrunt of reflection. And then, yes, seemingly as quickly as that, it's over.
As with all films of this ilk, there are certain strict rules that most be followed: There must be blood, there must be argument, there must be deceit/disillusion and there is no way all three get to survive. And to its credit Frozen ticks all the boxes, in mostly the right way.
First, the good. The young cast are good-looking, confident and more than capable, and are as believable as characters in a horror/thriller are ever going to be allowed to be. The cinematography is wonderful, but then surely one would have to go out of one's way to make a snowy mountaintop ugly. The overall atmosphere of tension and dread is sustained nicely, partly due to the fact that nothing in the 'peril' part of the narrative is played for laughs. Frozen's biggest achievement is that this atmosphere is created and partially sustained without recourse to the supernatural or explicitly othered enemy. The severity of the elements and the appearance of the wolves are entirely believable, and though slightly forced, still don't grate. The ending, such as it is, is neither good nor bad. It's but a whimper. Without spoilers, suffice it to say that not very much is given away (see below).
And now the bad. The sound effects during the scenes with the wolves single-handedly undo any good the rest of the film has done to this point. It is as if they crawled in from Troma's straight-to-DVD rip-off/cash-in version of Frozen, called, no doubt, something spectacular like Night of the Day of the Frozen Balls. Of Hell. They are skveetchy and squelchy and meaty and are so glaringly bad that a major turning-point in the narrative is rendered unintentionally laughable. If this was done on purpose, then the filmmakers terribly misjudged the type of film they were trying to make. And after all this, and all this good, the biggest problem with Frozen is that, despite everything else this film has in its favour, the simple fact remains that watching three people on a ski-lift is just not that interesting, and it would take more than a snowy-blood-wolf-rape to sustain interest beyond the hour mark; and by the time they had started dropping off, so had I.
Which brings us to the end. Although a downbeat and somewhat empty/open-ended conclusion can be highly effective when utilised by a director/writer of a certain skill (Coen and Coen), it just seems a bit daft and/or lazy to forgo the obvious and functionally sound denouement in favour of a weakly instituted cold existentialism.
All in all, 2 frozen bollocks out of 5.
Bruce Bailey is a one-time serious academic, now to be found in Notting Hill. Mooching about.