Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Suspended Desperation

Final Girl Stacie Ponder's Film Club pick for February was a bit of a curveball; I don't always participate, so I could be wrong here, but this one seemed like an atypical choice for the FGFC. First of all, it's brand new (I'd never heard of it until twelve hours ago), and second-of-all, it's pretty slick. If you've been following along at home, you'll know that most FG flick picks aren't slick...so much as...apt to be obscure and timeworn. Splendid gems for the most part, but usually in need of a good polishing. Frozen (2010), on the other hand, is fresh from the oven. Or icebox, in this case.

The set-up is basically the engine that powers every phase of the plot: three college kids become stuck on an immobile ski lift, stranded above a wolf-harried mountain, and attempt to survive with only their wits and their mitts left to them. (Spoiler! - they lose both really, really, quickly)

Directed by Adam Green of Hatchet fame, and featuring a cast of young horror veterans - Emma Bell (Walking Dead), Shawn Ashmore (The Ruins), and Kevin Zegers (Dawn of the Dead), Frozen is a deceptively simple modern thriller with admittedly minor scope, but keenly whetted for maximum audience impact. It's refreshing in its light touch - the melodrama is kept in check, there are few false notes in the character's interactions, and the tension and ultimate climax resolve organically. Also? No obvious reliance on CGI. These days, that's a laudable rarity.

So while the movie does an adequate job of keeping the audience caring about the characters' predicament and maintains a fairly decent pace, it suffers a bit from its ostensible antecedents. To wit; 2003's Open Water was a mostly grim slog through the last hours of a callow relationship doomed to evisceration by stupidity, recrimination, and bitey sharks. There is that same problem here. Mathematically, this fatalistic narrative equation can yield only a small number possible outcomes. The setup requires at least one sacrifice, so during the second and third acts, we're left expecting either one or both of the remaining characters to a) live, or b) die.

Perhaps paradoxically, by narrowing the focus by a third, the emotional stakes are equally divested. We care about this group of kids, (and they're presented as a unit, not a predictably killable crew of Hodder-fodder), but individually, as the three become separate, the dynamic spins away. It creates tension, but it's also an obvious, glaring tell for the audience - a familiar keyframe.

Early on, Frozen namechecks Jaws as a foreshadowing tool. A fear of being torn apart by predators is horribly realized for one, and you can't help but wonder if a Final Destination style outcome waits in kind for the others. When Bell's character declares her fear of burning to death, I half expected her to horribly combust while attempting to light a makeshift flare using her cigarette lighter and a length of ultra-flammable fleece from her jacket lining. Was it a coincidence that the jumping Trade Center workers of 9/11 were also mentioned? Were we supposed to anticipate the dubious irony of a flaming frost-bite victim falling to her death from the less-than-lofty heights of a mundane chairlift? I hope not, and I'm glad it didn't go there (although Ms. Bell is slated to appear in the upcoming Final Destination installment, so...hmm)

Frozen also owes some of its frosty DNA to the haunting and tragic Wind Chill, a comparison which is maybe unfairly apples & oranges of me, but I think deserves a mention. Frozen also got me thinking of the raft sequence in Creepshow 2. The escape plans devised as a kid (in case of a monster sighting) when lying on that raft in the middle of the lake at the cottage are no different, really, than the contingencies imagined after the ski-lift swings to a juddering halt on a Sunday in February over the treacherous Pinball Run.

As far as contingencies go, the majority of the viewers I'm sure formulated their own strategies while watching this, and those strategies would in all probability fail just as spectacularly as the panicked and element-numbed trio from the film's did. In fact, I'm willing to bet my season lift-pass that the Mythbusters devote an entire episode to alpine survival, punctuating each practical demonstration with abundant clips from Frozen to underscore their "kids, don't try this at home" mantra. ("Watch what happens to Buster's legs as we drop him onto a frozen hillside from a height of sixty feet!")

Ultimately, Frozen's glacial charms are more than enough to outweigh its shortcomings, and the final result is about nine million degrees more sizzling than what I would've expected from the helmer of the fucking Hatchet films.


At 8:06 PM, February 22, 2011, Blogger Banned In Queensland said...

"Hodder-fodder"… LOL… that's gold.

Great review, as usual, spazmo.

At 4:37 PM, February 23, 2011, Blogger Lazarus Lupin said...

I agree it's nice to see no obvious CGI. It has become the crotch (opps CRUTCH) of independent horror film makers.

Lazarus Lupin
art and review

At 12:24 PM, May 06, 2012, Blogger Eziliveve said...

Is Miskatonic Mansion all over? I escaped the catacombs and I'm sitting here with a card from the library catalog and a can of Tab I'm afraid to drink..


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