Frozen belongs to a popular calling-card subgenre: the horror movie that finds the young, spoiled, and callow stuck in one location and gradually succumbing to elements that are punishing them for their self-entitlement. The sole-location horror movie’s appeal to fledgling filmmakers is obvious, as the director and writer’s ingenuity is highlighted. These horror films are driven by one major narrative puzzle: How do you keep this thing going?
These films can be ingenious but are usually thematically limited. We are asked to watch as characters perish, and that can be suffocatingly nihilistic, with little room for the less rational ambiguity and ironic beauty that one might go to more traditional horror films for. Normally, the director compensates with a transparent arc in which some past misdeed is accounted for as the discomfort exponentially ratchets in the present. In Frozen, writer-director Adam Green gives his college-age characters—a couple and their smartass friend—a progression where they sort through jealousies and insecurities typical to a newish girl joining longtime buds for a cherished tradition, which in this case is an especially unpleasant skiing trip. Stuck too-high over the mountain in a lift that’s been mistakenly shut down, with wolves and the winter night awaiting them, Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore), and Dan (Kevin Zegers) find themselves, in the tradition of many a protagonist in this sort of film, facing the past.
Green has made a major leap here from his last film, the lame jokey splatterfest Hatchet. After a dull and somewhat awkward first act (where said group dynamics are awkwardly established), Frozen rallies with a final hour that’s harrowing despite the nonsense (the wolves are an especially naked request for suspension of disbelief). Green, surprisingly, is aiming for pathos here; he wants you to emotionally register the despairing, numbing, unjustly brutal consequences of what turns out to be typical slacker indifference. He doesn’t earn much of what he’s reaching for, but there’s a moment—of Parker considering that her cat will starve in her apartment after she dies—that has a frightening, moving, arbitrariness. The performances are initially stilted, and, while the actors are never especially memorable, they eventually achieve a grace as they suffer. Frozen is good enough to inspire wishes that Green’s follow up had been something, maybe anything, besides Hatchet II.
Good. Adam Green is surprisingly adept with the widescreen ratio, and the DVD preserves the clarity of the always potentially tricky snow and nighttime photography. The sound mix maintains the balance between effects that are both ostentatious (the growls of the ski lift practically bellow "foreshadowing" to the rafters), and effectively eerie, such as personal possessions falling from the lift to the snow below. Frozen is an unusually polished low-budget horror film, and that is well represented here.
The commentary and featurettes are detailed and generous, though not especially compelling, as they mostly consist of not-really-that-unique "how we did that" anecdotes that will primarily appeal to other aspiring horror directors—which, admittedly, is mostly the point.
Frozen is a ludicrous, uneven horror film that still successfully puts the screws to the audience.