*Editor’s Note: This editorial contains spoilers for Frozen. If you have not seen the film, consider bookmarking this page and revisiting it later.
In addition to being a jarring lesson on the importance of legitimately obtaining a lift ticket, Adam Green’s 2010 film, Frozen is also one of the most unsettling and effective single-location horror films of the past ten years.
As a winter storm approaches, three people become stranded on a chairlift high above the ground after a ski resort closes for the night.
Frozen stars Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, and Kevin Zegers.
After Hatchet (2006), audiences knew that Green was capable of telling a blood-soaked tale, reminiscent of the glory days of the slasher film. But with Frozen, the writer/director tells a very different story. This time around, Green opted to for a character-driven tale of survival over a flashy, effects bonanza that favors grotesque imagery above all else. The latter is certainly enjoyable but choosing the former really allowed Green to show versatility and growth as a filmmaker. And ten years after its initial release, the flick still evokes the same terror and sense of dread that it did the first time I watched it.
The thing that I love most about Frozen is that it is first and foremost a movie about the relationships between its three lead characters. None of them are a caricature or a stereotype. They don’t fit into conventional horror movie tropes like the sexually generous female or the douchey bro. They feel like real people and that connection is what elevates Frozen above enjoyable but perhaps less evocative horror fare.
You don’t mind spending time with these people. They are flawed and they say and do things to remind us of that. But that only adds to their humanity. And that is so important with a (primarily) single location horror film. If we have to spend ninety-minutes with these characters in a confined space, they need to be people that don’t make us want to get up and leave the room to get away from them. But Frozen goes a step beyond that and delivers characters with whom I actually enjoy spending time. In 2010, that wasn’t entirely commonplace in a horror picture. But as the genre continues to evolve and grow, we are seeing more and more of that, proving that Green was onto something.
Because the characters feel like real people, the excruciating circumstances in which they find themselves (stuck on a ski lift after hours when the resort is closing for the next several days) are much more traumatic for the audience. As we get to know Parker (Emma Bell), Joe (Shawn Ashmore), and Dan (Kevin Zegers) we come to identify with their plight and legitimately want the best for them. Parker selflessly worrying about her puppy (who is stuck at home) over her own self-interests not only serves to humanize her but makes the audience want to see her make it out of this ordeal in one piece.
Also effective is the way that Parker and Joe really go deep and talk about pretty personal stuff when they are alone on the lift. It’s not small talk. These are two people that know they’re probably going to die and are trying to make the most of what could be their final moments on earth. They’re coming to terms with their mortality but still holding out a shred of hope. That’s exactly how I would expect someone might feel in that situation and it shows that Green really put an extra measure of thought into his script.
In addition to a great screenplay, Green also shows much restraint as a director. He even cuts away from the carnage of the wolf attack sequence, eschewing graphic visuals to instead amplify the intensity of the situation by focusing on the two characters watching their friend being eaten alive by a pack of hungry wolves. The intensity of their response is far more frightening than any arterial spray or limb ripping could have been. That sequence is so haunting. Watching as one of the characters lays on the ground, screaming into the night with no one to come to his rescue is a visual that is hard to sit through (in a good way).
As well as being noteworthy for a great core cast, the film also deserves props for some terrific cameos. Frequent Adam Green collaborator Ed Ackerman is pitch-perfect as the lift operator and we also get to see Kane Hodder and Joe Lynch popping up during the film’s first act. I really admire Green’s commitment to working with the same collaborators on different projects. I enjoy watching almost anything he puts out because his work feels like a labor of love made with his favorite people. And there’s something very comforting about that.
Aside from palpable tension and great casting choices, another reason Frozen stands out is that it never underestimates the audience’s intelligence. The film isn’t just 90-minutes of college kids sitting on a ski lift and screaming. The characters defy horror stereotypes by making smarter choices than what the audience is expecting. They use logic and common sense to try and improve their situation. That eliminates the need to question their every decision and frees the viewer up to enjoy the film without distraction.
Adam Green proves his mastery of single location horror with tight shots and lots of close ups that make the viewer feel a sense of confinement and unease. He tells the story in such a way that I feel like I am trapped on that ski lift with the cast. Green engages his audience and takes them on an hour-and-half long ride that is likely to have viewers gripping their armrest. All in all, Frozen is a taut and suspenseful single location film that still gets under my skin ten years later.