A little plugging on my part, but thank you to The Cities We Captured, Only Fumes And Corpses and the crowd in the Bunatee at Queen's University for a right appropriate tear-up and last hurrah to The Lobotomies. This gig on Friday was riotous, and it was fantastic to see a crowd that didn't act like they were at fucking church. If anyone else has this problem with gigs, please feel from to consult me as your agony aunt, for I will console you in an appropriate manner. Any time I have been to a hardcore gig in Belfast, the crowd response is tremendous. Anyone coming to Belfast should check them out, because they are one of the best things to do while on holiday. You really don't regret having ears ringing two days on. R.I.P The Lobotomies!
Excusing my little digression on a different matter, the topic of discussion, as suggested by the title, is Frozen. Frozen is the new film by director Adam Green, most famous for directing the film Hatchet. Premiering at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Frozen has built a reputation through word-of-mouth, after numerous audience members had been reported fainting. Horror film as a genre is very polarised at present, balancing between two extremes. On one hand, you have graphically violent horror films, Hostel and Saw being prime examples, while on the other you have minimalist horrors that are mostly without gore, last year's Paranormal Activity being a recent example. Frozen falls into the latter 'less is more' category, and this approach permeates throughout.
In Frozen, a group of three young people, two childhood friends Dan and Joe (Kevin Zegers and Shawn Ashmore respectively), and Dan's girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell), intend to spend Sunday afternoon on the slopes, but don't have enough money to buy tickets for the ski-lift up Mount Holliston. After bribing the attendant, they head up, but much to Joe's dismay, he does not enjoy the day due to Parker's inexperience. Eager to have a last run up the mountain, they convince the attendant to let them go back up after closing time. However, via a miscommunication involving another attendant and a separate group of skiers, the trio gets stuck. And that is all the setup to the action that follows: the entire film stays with them on the ski-lift.
The film remains rigid to the central concept. Concept horror films often have problems in the unraveling of tension in the idea itself. No such problems occur here. Writer-director Adam Green plays his idea with great skill. There is no jumping back and forth between different locations: once we get to the ski-lift getting stuck, we stay there. Alfred Hitchcock always used to employ this narrative device, quite rightly, for it is more intense if we don’t know what is happening on the other side. This ensures that the viewer is always asking questions whether or not steps are being taken to help our trio's plight. Furthermore, the drama that follows is appropriate and progresses very well. Decisions whether or not to jump from the ski-lift, bladder issues etc all come into play. At first, you are unaware how intense the film is until things start happening, and from then you are caught in a vice grip that doesn't let go until the final minute. From an ideas perspective, its execution is marvelous. Green knows what he is doing, milking the base, simple idea down until there is nothing left to do.
A good idea is more often than not the beginning of a good film. All art, good or bad, comes from ideas, without which, art would not exist. In the case of Frozen, the idea is great. However, the audience wouldn’t care about this idea if we did not have the central trio deliver good performances. Emma Bell does with a basic character something interesting. She is a watchable screen presence who makes you genuinely care for the character's outcome. Her character goes through a wide emotional scale with many peaks and depths, and Bell does this rather well. It is the kind of performance that could be overlooked, but I found terrific. Not to spoil anything that goes on in the film, but Parker goes through the most. Bell conquers potential audience annoyance towards her character, because she does cry and moan (a lot). Kevin Zegers gives a good performance as Dan, although he has far less to do than the other two. I was rather impressed with Shawn Ashmore, who I had seen in The Ruins. In The Ruins, the acting was poor all round, but here Ashmore gives a very good performance as Joe. His is the 'going through changes' type, and manages to pull this off well, even if this aspect of the character is not written as well as he acts it. Although goeing through an emotional scale like Bell, Ashmore delivers the more subdued performance. In light of the fact that the film's talking point is the whole 'three people stuck in a ski-lift' thing, the acting, in its lack of bravado and more 'human' approach, fits in with what unfolds and is a large contributing factor to it's success.
More surprising, but not to the film's detriment, is how good it is from a technical standpoint. Will Barratt's cinematography is highly inventive. He does as many camera tricks as is possible, shooting from every conceivable perspective to capture the action. The cinematography here helps save the central concept from running dry, and not once does Barratt's contribution make it seem mundane. If you did not know that this was a 'low-budget' low-budget movie made on a shoestring, you would think that Barratt's work was from a far larger film in budgetary terms. Stylistically, it creates a kind of voyeurism, coming from angles that it would be hard, but not impossible for people to watch from. It is like we, the audience, are stalking the trio, although the film does not decide to tell us off for it a-la Michael Haneke's Funny Games, but revels in it. This is terrific work, and does everything that can be in this closed setting. Ed Marx's editing compliments Barratt's work. The editing is a deviation from trends of recent horror films. Avoiding the trend of horror (and action) films of shooting on DV, either raw or with shaky-cam thing going on, the DV editing is given a layer here so that we can clearly see the action unfold. Also, it cuts at exactly the right moments it should.
Frozen is a superior horror film, but by no means is it flawless. First off, the unfolding of the ideas in the script is done well, but there are problematic elements that exist within the script. For example, the characters are for the most part two-dimensional. It is the skill of the actors that make us buy them, but it does not disguise the fact that these are cutouts. While their external dilemma is original, their internal dilemma is unoriginal and comes across as filler. You care for the characters because of the acting, but on occasion the script lets down the drama that is unfolding.
I know this is a typical thing for me to say, but once again, the original score is very flawed. The filmmakers know how to balance the moments of intensity. In these moments, Andy Garfield's score works well, heightening the tension, as opposed to being overt and intrusive. However, much of the film remains in the ski-lift where things don't happen. This is not a bad thing, but act as moments of meditation in the midst of the obvious parts where things do happen. Here, the characters are talking and their internal dilemmas are given more space. At these moments, Garfield's score is more overt and intrusive, with music once again signifying important 'character moments' that are already obvious to everyone in the audience. With the sound effects working well, Frozen is the kind of film that would benefit from a lack of a score. We have seen from Paranormal Activity's recent example that people do not need a score to be scared, and Frozen would only contribute from such a decision.
The final problem with Frozen emerges from decisions made in the pre-production stage. It is a highly entertaining and intense horror film, but simply lacks the complexity of a great horror film. Part of this emerges from the simple approach taken. The script is written well for the frightening, very real concept of being stuck on a ski-lift. However, it is not layered enough as a whole. If you take the case of Jaws, a concept film at surface level about a shark terrorising a summer beach resort town. Underneath this layer though is a battle between man and nature. Frozen lacks extra layers that great films, never mind horror films possess. In a second viewing, there are no additional layers to fall back on once everyone knows what happens, so while I thought that Frozen was great on the first watch, I doubt that by the time you see it two or three times it will maintain this intensity.
This isn’t a suggestion that you don't see Frozen. Far from it, as I will reiterate, it is a superior horror film. The central idea is transformed into a plausible, ninety-minute film that is well acted, well shot and well edited. I was impressed with each of these aspects, Emma Bell and Shawn Ashmore giving very good performances, Will Barratt doing a tremendous job with cinematography and Ed Marx doing a solid job at editing. Adam Green as director does a very good job, and I think there is talent suggesting better work in the future, although his screenplay is flawed. Also, music in the film was an unwise decision. Finally, because I enjoyed it this much first time round, I worry about it lasting as a film in audience's eyes, for it lacks the layers that truly great horror films possess. However, if you want to see an original horror film that is in this year's upper crust of the genre, by all means see Frozen.
The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 7.8/10
The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – Reflective (on the dangers of ski-lifts)