Technically brilliant, yet enjoyably straightforward, Adam Green’s chilly thriller delivers, as Mark Lee discovers.
It strikes me that ambitious writer/director Adam Green must be some sort of sadist. Not because he has set out to create a film to satisfy the current obsession with unflinching, sphincter-contracting gore – which he hasn’t – but rather because his ice cold horror presentation, Frozen, has been filmed embracing a multitude of challenging conditions which would, on the surface, appear to be virtually insurmountable. Rather than utilising studio shots, CGI, and other shortcuts, Green instead faces the challenges head on, centring the drama in a confined space, at height, on location, and relies upon the strength of the slowly accumulating yet palpable tension, engaging character interaction, and agonisingly difficult decision-making situations to drive through an effective and quite literal chiller of a quality that is impressive at the least, and remarkable at best.
Green’s achievement is one of technical excellence, without doubt, yet it almost feels that the decision to base most of the ‘action’ within the confines of a small ski site chairlift – a setting which despite its breathtaking snowy panorama feels distressingly claustrophobic – drives all concerned, including the three young actors at the centre of the peril, to produce an inventive and engaging chronicle of a disaster scenario. Frozen resists any recourse to the safe harbour of liberal gore and easy shocks, and the intelligent restraint of the slow burning story pays dividends as the tension builds to a thrilling climax.
As the fate of the Frozen three unfolds against the stunning, beautiful backdrop of jagged white mountains, Green turns the screw on our nerves by tapping into some of our most basic fears from our formative years. Soon, we feel the cold pain of our fear of abandonment, of being forgotten, and of being left behind, unable to control our safety and our future. We feel the growing dread as the darkness starts to envelope the three in an increasingly desolate environment. The confinement of the chair – and ‘punishment’ for attempting to leave it – further fuels the desperation and despair of the situation. And, standing tall above all of our other fears, is our fear of the cold, cruel, and wholly indifferent might of nature, a nature which unleashes its collective, unreasoning force against the imperilled and broken trio.
Despite the impressive gusto and precision of Green’s delivery, there are inevitably some constraints which limit the end product. The three young actors, who largely produce convincing and likeable characterisations amongst the challenging conditions, very occasionally miss the mark with their reactions to the drama (although some of Emma Bell’s sections are stunning), some of the plot conveniences feel a little too contrived to fully convince, and the limitations of the lengthy chair-based scenes, whilst proving to be one of the most impressive elements of the movie, also prove slightly disruptive to the pacing of the piece, especially at the earlier stages of the peril.
Frozen has received some level of criticism surrounding the credibility of the story, yet this seems unfair. As Green is keen to point out in the commentary and in some of the extras, much of the movie is mirrored in real life events, and on balance, the delivery of the movie certainly produces a picture which feels believable and frightening.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the technical precision and complexity of Green’s filmmaking, the end product is an enjoyably straightforward and suitably exhilarating excursion into some of our deepest fears, set against a delightfully shot sweeping backdrop of beautiful, white, snow-capped mountains. Limiting his actors to an almost completely static location, he provokes largely excellent performances, and manages to spin a yarn of unremitting tension that features no stalker, no slasher, and no bad guy; this is three peoples’ desperate battle against a harsh and ruthless nature. As such, the chilling delivery of Frozen is a highly recommended icy treat.
Frozen arrives encoded with region B, and the aspect ratio is 2.35:1, presented in 1080p, which delivers a fantastic viewing experience of the movie, with its frequent wide views of the scenery, and the stricken characters. The quality of the transfer is excellent, and the definition of the presented image is precise and detailed. The translation of the colours feels credible, with a vibrant colour palette contrasting well against the white backdrop of the snowy mountains. The reflections from the snowy surface never over-saturate or dazzle, and the intentionally greeny-blue shades of the night scenes deliver its sinister atmospherics suitably.
The movie is relatively short, so only constitutes a file size of 20.7Gb. With the generous allocation of extras, the total disk size is almost 38Gb. The frame rate is 23.976fps, and the encoding is VC-1, maintaining a clean, high quality image.
The menus are attractive, easily navigable, and sensibly laid-out. There are subtitles for the Hard of Hearing, although none for other languages. The subtitles are clear, accurate, well sized, and sensibly placed.
Trailers for Beneath Hill 60, Brooklyn’s Finest, and a ‘Snickers’ advertisement are included.
Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1. The audio reproduction is excellent. The squeaks, rattles, and clanging of the creaky old chair lift are reproduced in teeth-jangling fashion, and the bass reproduction expresses suitable depth, yet maintains a tight nature to assist in the delivery of the jumps and shocks. The only real grumble is that dialogue is occasionally a little difficult to discern, perhaps due to the nature of what can often be a rapid fire script.
Momentum have done a fantastic job with this Blu-ray release, supplying not only a great transfer, but also including a generous slab of extras to compliment the main feature. Green’s irrepressible enthusiasm shines brightly throughout, and the extras will also prove fascinating to those interesting in filmmaking, as there is a great deal of focus on the considerable technical efforts that went into making the movie, delivered in detailed and non-patronising fashion.
There are two sets of commentary. The first set features a discussion between Adam Green, and the three main actors, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers, and Emma Bell, who, in slightly embarrassed tones, arrives 25 minutes late! Nevertheless, the commentary is engaging and enjoyable, and reveals just how much the actors contributed to the overall feature, thanks to the collaborative style of Green.
The second commentary is once again chaired by Mr Green, although the focus this time is much more centred upon the technical elements of the picture, thanks to the presence of cinematographer Will Barratt, and editor Ed Marx. The three share a strong rapport, so you can expect plenty of open technical discussion, plus occasional slices of humour. Both sets of commentary are rich in stories and detail, and run literally from the opening credits to the end of the closing credits. Indeed, it feels as if Green simply can’t express all of his enthusiasm in the given time slots, despite a total of 186 minutes to do so across both commentary instalments.
Catching Frostbite: The Origins of Frozen is an 11 minute documentary short, featuring comments from various people surrounding the film, including the director himself. The focus is on the origins of the movie, and Green gives plenty of comments regarding the films’ detractors (who mainly criticise the lack of credibility of the situation), and makes references to his other movies, including Hatchet, and the forthcoming Hatchet II.
Three Below Zero focuses on the three young actors, and Green explains his justifications for selecting them. It’s interesting to see how he wanted lesser known faces (although all three have experience in a number of movies and TV programmes), and was aware that bigger names would be less inclined to endure some of the experiences that would be coming their way. The piece is almost eleven minutes long.
Shooting Through it is another eleven minute instalment, this time switching to a reveal of the underpinning technical methods used to shoot the movie. It makes for impressive viewing, with slots from the cinematographer and other crew involved in the project. Of particular interest is the use of the technocrane, and the challenges involved in shifting tonnes of equipment up a snowy hill, plus the wizardry and equipment required for lighting at the heights involved.
The longest section is reserved for Beating the Mountain: Surviving Frozen, a comprehensive behind-the-scenes featurette showing all elements of the filming in quite some detail. It runs at 52:55 minutes, and is stuffed full of interviews, comments, and footage. The only slight issue you may encounter is that by this point, you may be hearing a little repetition, since similar issues arise during this, other extras, and during the two sets of commentary. Clearly, too much information is welcomed over too little, so this is a minor gripe.
The Deleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary segment presents three deleted scenes, with optional commentary from director/writer Green. The three sections are all worth a viewing, and Green should be commended for leaving the full-on gore section on the cutting room floor, as that scene would have been incongruent with the rest of the restrained and careful picture.
The Chair 92 piece is a 1.37 minute short about some literally chilling subject matter. I’ll leave the chills for when you see it, rather than spoil it here.
A decent enough Trailer is included running at 1 minute 56 seconds, and in contrast to many modern trailers it doesn’t spoil the film too much.
Adam Green’s labour of love is presented in full high definition glory on a good quality transfer from Momentum Pictures. With this taut, tense thriller being presented alongside a whole host of extras, there is much to recommend for Frozen to take a flamethrower to your chilled nerves this winter.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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