Tuesday, February 15, 2011


(2010) Written and Directed by Adam Green; Starring: Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore,  Kevin Zegers:
Available formats: DVD, Blu-Ray and Netflix Streaming

Rating: **

Every once in a while a low budget thriller comes along that transcends its limitations and challenges our assumptions about the genre (Duel, Memento, The Usual Suspects).  Frozen is not one of those movies.  It starts with a unique premise: three young college students are trapped 40 feet above the ground on a ski lift with no help available, and takes it to predictable lengths.  Although Frozen clearly has lofty (pardon the pun) aspirations, it never manages to rise above the conventions of the genre.

Many of Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg’s (particularly his earlier work) films have involved ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.  It’s evident that writer/director/would-be auteur Adam Green is gunning for a similar vibe, as Frozen introduces three exceedingly ordinary college students, Dan and his girlfriend Parker, along with his best friend Joe.  Short on funds, they finagle their way on to the ski lift for one last run by bribing the lift operator.  In a cruel twist of fate, they become stranded after a last-minute change of lift operators and missed communication between the operators.  They are suddenly trapped high in the air with no means of escape and no chance of a rescue.  This was the final Sunday run before the resort closed for the week, not due for reopening until the following Friday. 

At this point, one might reasonably ask, “Wouldn’t they let the ski lift run for an entire cycle before stopping it, just to be sure there were no stragglers?”  In these lawsuit-heavy times, it seems like a small price to pay for peace of mind.  Of course, I’ve never worked as a ski lift operator, nor do I know anyone who has done this line of work, so I can’t be certain how likely this scenario is.  This sort of thing isn’t entirely unprecedented, but the chain of events leading up to their stranding seems overly contrived.  This is just one of the many leaps that we are expected to accept.

One of the conceits of this unique predicament is that we’re going to be spending a lot of time with the three core characters as they’re left dangling above the ground, exposed to the elements.  It follows that Frozen should be a performance and dialogue-driven film, instead of a collection of wasted opportunities.  Even if we don’t necessarily like these characters, they should at least be interesting. One of the major story components is the contentious relationship between Parker and her boyfriend’s best buddy Joe.  Their bickering seems forced, however, and does not really add to the tension of the film.  There are no insightful discussions or attempts to flesh out the characters beyond superficial traits.  As a result, we’re never fully invested in their lives, and we’re left with little to really care about in the end.

The dialogue in Frozen seldom rises above the banal, with feeble attempts to sound edgy or contemporary.  One character uses the word “douchebag” no less than three times.  A few pop culture references are thrown in, such as Joe’s mentioning of the sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi, perhaps to gain some geek cred.  Mostly, there is a prevailing blandness to the conversations, with no one saying anything particularly unexpected or provocative.  Green probably intended to capture the way many young college students speak, which is all well and good, but it’s not captivating cinema.  Although this wouldn’t necessarily be the place for rapid-fire Tarantino-esque dialogue, it would have been nice to see the conversations go in unpredictable directions once in a while.

Frozen works best when it focuses on the hopelessness of the external situation.  You can sense the gravity of the characters’ dilemma, as they sit alone in the dark, amid the frigid expanse of tree-lined white slopes.  Naturally, this would have been a perfect opportunity for the characters to turn inward and reflect on their state of being, but I’m probably asking too much. 

Note: Please be advised that there are some spoilers ahead, so if you still feel compelled to watch this, you might want to skip to the last paragraph.

Much of the suspense in Frozen is deflated by stupid choices on the part of the characters.  One notable example is when Dan jumps from the ski lift, subsequently resulting in nasty compound fractures to both legs when he hits the ground.  This is immediately followed by a scene in which various ski items rain down on him, and an attack by a roving pack of hungry wolves *.  The execution is more absurd than nail-biting, and I couldn’t help but be reminded me of a few Monty Python sketches.  

* As an aside, wolf attacks are extremely rare occurrences, with only two documented fatal incidents in North America.  Not that we can accuse most filmmakers of allowing these pesky little details to get in the way of a good story, of course.

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief about the first attack, since he was obviously a tempting morsel for the wolves, but the second attack seems much more implausible.  As Joe now plots his escape, we see the wolves loitering, licking their chops as they watch the remaining ski lift passengers stranded above.  Their behavior seems more akin to a shark feeding frenzy, rather than a coordinated hunt, and it seems especially doubtful that they would bother to stick around.

Another example of stupidity involves Parker, whose bare hand freezes to the lift chair restraint bar after she falls asleep.  Call me cynical, but such a mishap could easily have been avoided by simply keeping her hand in her pocket.  In fact, when she lost one of her gloves in an earlier scene, I wondered why she didn’t reflexively reach for her pocket in response to the intense cold.  As far as I know, most parkas are equipped for such contingencies.

*** Spoilers End ***

Frozen begins with the seed of a captivating thriller, but it continually squanders its chances to be anything but ordinary.  Adam Green makes the assumption that you can carry an entire film on a premise, and the momentum created in the beginning will do all the work for you.  What remains is a situation without a strong story, dialogue, or memorable performances.  Green clearly has aspirations for more, as evidenced by some of the artful, well-composed shots in his film.  It suggests that he might even have a bright future, if he can populate those shots with something interesting.

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