Fifteen minutes into ‘Frozen’ and I was mentally preparing my review. I was going to refer to it by what must surely have been its working title – ‘Three Douchebags on a Chairlift’ – and post this screengrab …
Then, round about the halfway mark, Adam Green’s admittedly (and it’s something I admit through gritted teeth) taut thriller began to exude a palpable sense of tension. And, even though I didn’t develop any great degree of sympathy, empathy or even give-a-shitness about the characters, I knew I’d have to see the film out. I had to know how it resolved.
Let’s get the characters out of the way. We have three student types: smug twat Dan (Kevin Zegers), wiseass fuckwad Joe (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan’s whiny girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell) Granted, Parker has good reason to be whiny since Dan treats her like a piece of meat and Joe spits snarky comments her way, but her whining just gets pitiful and annoying after a while. And by “a while”, I mean roughly ten minutes.
Here’s how annoying and whiny Parker is: Joe bitches to Dan while they’re in a café that they’ve had to waste a day on the “bunny slopes” because Parker is a novice skier and why did Dan have to bring her along, dude they could have done some real ski-ing but Dan totally brought his girlfriend along and why is he acting like such a pussy and not spending so much time with Joe anymore just because he’s, like, got a girlfriend. It’s so unfair. Joe stops his diatribe short of stamping a foot or sticking his tongue out. Which is shame. Dan, instead of telling Joe to get a life or smacking him upside the head and warning him not to diss the g/f (ie. the two most likely scenarios in reality) gives Joe a sheepish “uh, actually, dude, she’s right behind you” look. And Parker, instead of dumping the scalding contents of her Styrofoam cup of coffee into Joe’s lap, slapping Dan, calling them both fucking losers and going out and finding herself a guy who doesn’t secretly want to get all ‘Brokeback Mountain’ with his best bud (ie. the most likely scenario in reality), comes across all totally, oh my God, I’m so sorry I’ve come between you guys, I should never have come on this holiday, I should have just stayed at home and baked cookies and let you guys do the manly ski-ing thing and, I dunno, break out the KY jelly in the chalet afterwards.
So: two candyass guys and a girl who whinily acts like feminism never happened. Three douchebags on a chairlift, everyone.
This leaves three douchebags stranded on a chairlift.
To begin with, they treat the matter as an annoyance. A surprisingly witty bit of badinage has our trapped trio debate the worst ways to die, a tombstone humour response to the minor inconvenience of the chairlift stopping (Green also seems to be presupposing the inevitable “it does for chairlifts what ‘Jaws’ did for sharks” comparisons of lazy critics*), before the string of lights which illuminate the length of the cableway go off and the gang get real about the possibility of being stuck up there all night. Then Parker reminds them that it’s Sunday and the resort only opens Friday to Sunday.
Panic sets in. Uncertainty manifests. Should they wait? Should one of them try jumping to the ground (“I might hurt myself, but I’ll be able to get down off the mountain and get help”)? Or is inching one’s way hand over hand along the cabling a better option (factoring in that the cable’s razor sharp)? One of the gang decides to jump. They’re a fairly athletic personage and confident that they can make it. They leap from the chairlift.
Let’s just pause here and review the options when jumping from any significant height. Does one:
(a) bend the knees and roll one’s body on impact;
(b) jump with legs rigidly extended and trust in the Lord?
This, folks, is an object lesson in what happens when you go with option (b):
‘Frozen’ incrementally develops into a gripping exercise in tension, enriched no end by the Philip Glass-style modulations of Andy Garfield’s score, and beautifully shot by Will Barratt who works a minor miracle in creating movement, scope and striking images in a film which restricts its protagonists to one unmoving locale for two-thirds of its running time.
An exercise in tension can only ever remain just that – an exercise – if the characters are characterless and their interrelationships redundant.
*Notwithstanding that ‘Jaws’ earned its reputation by proving the best of any number of films about sharks. As opposed to the dearth of films about chairlifts. And, no, ‘Where Eagles Dare’ doesn’t count – that’s a cable car.