In recent years the horror film has undergone a drastic change. Unfortunately the changes that have been forced upon this once thrilling film genre are in danger of completely ruining it, at least for those of us brought up on classic horror films like the ‘’Exorcist’ of the Universal Studio’s monster movies from the thirties and forties. The genre has degenerated in to little more than blood splatter; gratuitous nudity and torture taken to such an extreme that there are groups who have noted that this new wave of horror have desensitized a generation to heinous acts of real cruelty and organized infliction of agony. Instead of instilling a feeling of terror or impending doom the majority shuns any psychological engagement of the audience in favor of the cheap visceral shock. When a film comes around that makes a whole hearted, honest attempt at a more tradition type of horror it is easy to overlook some technical flaws recognizing the thought and effort that went into the film. One prime example of this is the latest freight-fest by upcoming master of horror, Adam Green; ‘Frozen’. This movie returns to a more simplistic approach to the genre, back to when a modest budget and a great deal of imagination can produce a frightening film that you can actually enjoy instead of just cringing in disgust. This movie may surprise you. The premise is so simplistic and so confined it is hard to imagine pulling a feature length movie out of it but that could be why we watch movies instead of making them. This film is a testament to the fact that you don’t need buckets of gore or some supernatural psycho killer to make a horror film. The DVD and Blu-ray are released through Starz/Anchor Bay. Considering a sizable portion of their release catalog consists of the slash and dash flicks it is fantastic to see the have not forgotten their usual commitment to independent movies of quality.
I first noticed Adam Green when he directed a well crafted psychological thriller, ‘Spiral’ a film that knew the best way to put the audience on the edge of their seats is to develop a tightly wound story. He then moved on to writing and directing ‘Hatchet’ a nod to the classic horror films of the pre-torture flicks that dominated the eighties. With ‘Frozen’ he takes the minimalist approach to an extreme with surprisingly solid results. Green is obviously a long time fan of horror since here he is able to distill the most important elements of the genre to construct a tale of pure terror. First and foremost you need a group of people to put directly in the line of mortal danger. Green devotes the first act of the movie introducing us to Parker O'Neil (Emma Bell) and her friends. She is off for a pleasant Sunday skiing with her boyfriend, Dan (Kevin Zegers), his best friend Joe (Shawn Ashmore). Not wanting to pay full price for the lift Parker managers to connive the lift operator to let the three of them up for the price of one. The series of coincidences that results in the three of them being stranded in the middle of the run facing a week alone is overly convenient but within a somewhat malleable sense of possibility. These include it is a weekend only resort, the one person who knows there up there is called away telling his replacement three are left on the lift and finally three other skiers descend making the tally look correct. A movie like this needs to make these initiating events seem possible and Green does do a good job to achieve this suspension of belief.
The ingredients that Green so masterfully stirs together here begins with the perception the audience gets of the soon to be victims. They all seem likable enough although a couple of moments included help the audience have a little jolt of moral superiority. Mostly this occurs with Parker, it’s her little scheme that sets the stage for the tragedy that follows. This leads to an eventual ‘Karma got you’ moment when she drops a glove while smoking; a little accident that provides one of the better special effects makeup shots in the movie. At least the circumstances are more realistic that the perennial group of idiot teens heading off to as deserted house in the middle of nowhere because they are too dumb to think of any better place to get high and have sex. This brings us to the next vital requirement for terror; isolation. Green once again goes for a simple but highly effective way of placing the young people in danger and removes any hope of recue from the outside. Sitting on a ski lift with no one expected for almost a week there is not even a chance of a cell phone getting bars. Instead of employing some inbreed cannibalistic bad guy Green choose something far more likely to kill you, nature. The massive snowstorm that precipitates the lift’s early and rapid closure is also the dominant threat to our hapless trio. Alone in the dark with temperatures falling rapidly the audience has enough of a frame of reference to empathize with the kids here. It is not enough to just have the potential to freeze to death but there is also no food or water making the idea of a week up there untenable. The cherry on the top of this predicament is the pack of hungry wolves waiting for someone to drop in for dinner. No matter how civilized we become as human beings there is an inborn, primordial fear of a predator devouring us while we are alive, looking at your own flesh and muscle ripped off and consumed.
The final result here is a success alone the lines of ‘Open Water’ where you get what has been omitted from so many recent horror movies; the dedication and talent to do a horror flick properly with a perfect blend of the psychological and the visceral. This film works because it dares to break with the established routine that has afflicted the genre and go back to basics.
Audio Commentary By Cast And Crew