Reviewed by MattFini
Starring Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers
Directed by Adam Green
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
The best genre filmmaking resonates with audiences because of the way it taps into universal fears or insecurities. Psycho’s shower scene is forever embedded in pop culture because of its depiction of people at their most vulnerable. And who doesn’t dread the possibility of a Carcharodon carcharias attack while taking a dip in the ocean? Halfway through Frozen, I realized writer/director Adam Green had tapped a similar vein when my fiancée – no stranger to the genre – threw her hands up and stormed from the room. Not out of disinterest or dislike but because the simple premise of three skiers stranded on a ski lift had become an intensely unbearable experience. She watched the rest of the film from the doorway, torn between abandoning the film altogether and needing to know who, if anyone, survived nature’s onslaught.
It’s a testament to Green’s steadily increasing ability as a filmmaker to sustain the attention of even those who’ve decided that Frozen goes too far. Enduring it isn’t always pleasant but you will stick it out, even if it’s through the cracks of your fingers. The stakes are too great to discard this as a pointless exercise in nihilism, instead boasting a genuine script that succeeds in giving depth to its principal characters. They’re not merely fodder but people just like the ones you went to school with or work beside. There’s tension between lifelong friends Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan (Kevin Zegers) because Dan has decided to bring his girlfriend, Parker (Emma Bell), along on what has typically been a ”guy’s retreat.” Parker clearly finds Joe’s passive hostility to be obnoxious, which puts Dan in an awkward position, and the viewer cannot help but identify with one of three viewpoints presented (Team Ashmore, baby!).
None of it would’ve worked, however, if Green hadn’t assembled a fantastic cast to bring these characters to life. Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers and Emma Bell run a convincing gamut of emotions, all of it contributing to the authenticity of an unimaginable situation. Denial, panic, humor, horror and blame are passed around the sedentary ski lift as the claustrophobia of the situation closes in around them and the wolves begin circling. But Green keeps our attention on the people, never allowing the circumstances to overshadow them. In Frozen’s most gruesome and horrific moments, we remain cognizant that we’re seeing people’s lives utterly obliterated while understanding that we’re watching the survival horror subgenre at the top of its game.
The decision to film on location in Utah adds an invaluable amount of atmosphere to the proceedings. It couldn’t have been a comfortable shoot for any of the cast and crew, but here’s a movie that simply wouldn’t have worked with CGI backdrops. The natural approach ensures we feel this one as much as we see it. And boy do we feel it: From the discomfort of an unforgiving New England winter to the almost unbearable levels of tension and suspense throughout. The characters do everything they can to escape the debacle of their situation, but the elements prove to be against them, enabling Green to stage some truly white-knuckle setpieces along the way. As a relative newcomer to the genre, it’s gratifying to watch the director grow stronger with each passing film. Frozen represents his best work to date, an uncompromising rush of suspense that tightens its grip around you while refusing to yield. I was glad when it was over but only because I could resume breathing.
Anchor Bay brings Frozen chattering to Blu-ray with a relatively strong presentation via an MPEG-4 encode. There’s a slight look of digital processing to the transfer but nothing terribly distracting. A good chunk of the film was shot at night, and while the image lacks the ‘pop’ of high definition reference material, this appears to be a stellar recreation of the film’s theatrical exhibition. Blacks are strong and without any crushing to hinder the detail. The daytime scenes obviously look a bit sharper with fine textures and skin tones that appear natural and un-jaundiced. Definitely a solid transfer that does right by the source material.
On the audio front the aggressive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track smacks your face with a gust of uncompressed audio. Watching this one on a relatively warm fall evening had me shivering in my living room. Rear channels are constantly alive with ambient noise, encasing the viewer in this maelstrom of frosty weather and other hostile obstacles. Dialogue remains clear and entirely confined to the front channels, never overshadowed by surround speaker activity. This is a strong and satisfying audio presentation for any home theater.
For a film with such a disappointing theatrical distribution, it’s nice to see Anchor Bay deliver a strong collection of supplements, beginning with two commentary tracks. First up is a lively little discussion with writer/director Green along with stars Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers and Emma Bell. It’s the first thing I ended up viewing because I needed an escape from the movie’s grim fantasy. Good to know everyone made it through and with a strong sense of camaraderie intact. Definitely worth the listen. The second commentary (exclusive to the Blu-ray) reunites Green with DP Will Barratt and editor Ed Marx. It’s a technical commentary but worth listening to in order to appreciate the challenges of making this film.
Moving on to the rest of the package, you get one documentary and three featurettes. Beating the Mountain: Surviving Frozen runs just under an hour and covers pre-production and shooting. It’s a revealing and entertaining look at an unrelenting production. Three featurettes, Catching Frostbite: The Origins of Frozen, Three Below Zero and Shooting Through It, provide additional background on aspects ranging from the film’s genesis, casting and filming. All of them are very informative with each running approximately ten minutes.
A small collection of deleted scenes with optional director commentary and a theatrical trailer round out the package. An Easter egg called Chair 92 can be accessed via the extras menu (click to the right and highlight the paw); it details a spooky little piece of history around the ski chair used in the filming.
Frozen is undoubtedly one of the best genre films this year, and Anchor Bay has provided a quality package to celebrate its home video bow. With a strong (if unspectacular) transfer and a powerful audio track, this Blu-ray is a rock solid way to experience the film. Extras are worthwhile, offering a good five hours of supplemental content to devour after the film has put you through the paces. Add this one to your collection, and remember it the next time you feel like hitting the slopes. Guarantee you’ll think twice.
4 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5