Tuesday, February 22, 2011


My contribution to this month’s Final Girl Film Club.

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 …

… just so I could sarcastically conjecture that the rest of the sign read “… from watching this movie”.

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.

How they get stranded on the chairlift is: they plead with Chairlift Operator #1 to let them take one last trip up to the summit even though he’s just about to shut up shop for the night. Won over by their charming way of whining and going “awww, c’mon maaaan” repeatedly and not saying please, he lets them. Chairlift Operator #2 wanders by and mentions to Chairlift Operator #1 that their boss (let’s call him Big Chief Chairlift) wants Chairlift Operator #1 to work next weekend. Chairlift Operator #1 goes off on one – turns out its his brother’s stag night on the date in question – and stomps away to give Big Chief Chairlift a piece of his mind. (At this point I was hoping director Adam Green would cut to the altercation in Big Chief Chairlift’s office and actually give this motherfucker some real drama.) Chairlift Operator #2 is left to shut up shop. Which he does very quickly because he’s bursting for a pee.

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):

It’s at this point that the wolves turn up.

Things pretty much go from bad to worse from hereon in.

‘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.

Adam Green, best known for the grim and joyless ‘Hatchet’, wrings everything he can out of the material and the performances from the three leads are as good as can be expected given the often trite dialogue into which Green’s script retreats. This is the major contributing factor to the flaw that almost sinks the film: as excruciating as their ordeal becomes, it’s almost impossible to root for these douches. To be perfectly honest, I was rooting for the freakin’ wolves at one point! Don’t get me wrong, I dig the anti-hero as much as the next blogger – hell, give me an evil bastard whose out-and-out villainy throws the moral simplicity of the hero into sharp and unflattering relief and I’m as happy as a dipso in a liquor store – but, damn it, give your bastards and villains and anti-heroes some interesting dialogue. That, or make your heroes sympathetic enough for us to care about.

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.


REX said...

Three Douchebags on a Chairlift. Disappointing, but yeah, that would sum it up, the sell, "honest version." But then that doesn't give much for Ms. Ponder and her minions to discuss, does it?

Pussy Goes Grrr said...

You sum up a lot of what I found so tedious and pointless about Frozen. It WAS occasionally tense and terrifying, but that doesn't matter much when you have so little care for the characters. My personal nicknames for them were Squinty (Dan), Smirky (Joe), and Whiny (Parker).

Also, I love your point about How To Fall. Like honestly... who DIDN'T see that coming?

BRENT said...

Give-a-shitness...love it! just love it! I have been considering renting this, so in your final opinion should I or shouldn't I??

Neil Fulwood said...

Rex - I think they should have gone with my title, for no other reason than it would have ended up between 'Three Amigos' and 'Three Men and a Baby' on the rental shelves.

Pussy Goes Grrr - it love those nicknames! It's a contingent of the Seven Dwarves found themselves stuck halfway up a mountain. I can imagine the individual chapter titles: 'Squinty and the Wilhelm Scream', 'Smirky Cuts His Hands', 'Whiny is Not a Role Model'.

Brent - my advice would be, if someone lends you a copy (which is how I got to see it) see it for the cinematography and a couple of tense sequences in the last half hour. Spending money on a rental ... nah!

Bryce Wilson said...

Great work Neil. Laughed out loud quite a few times. Perhaps after we publish The Blogger's Grimm we can make a fortune on how to fall pamphlets.

I liked the film a fair amount more then most. But then again I saw it in a packed theater with a group that was in an excellent mood and really got into it. So that probably skewed things.

Neil Fulwood said...

Good idea, Bryce. Maybe we can expand the "how to fall" pamphlet into the "dummies' guide to surviving horror movies", including such chapters as 'Why Leaving Your Mobile Phone in Locker While Utilizing an Unpredictable Mode of Transport is a Bad Idea' and 'Foreshadowing: or, The Importance of Not Talking About Bad Ways to Die at the Outset of Your Ordeal'.

Lazarus Lupin said...

Great alternate title for the film. I was rooting for the wolves also.

Lazarus Lupin
art and review

Neil Fulwood said...

The wolves were awesome. I kind of wish 'Frozen' had been set in Alaska and is was Sarah Palin stuck up on the chairlift with the wolves prowling below and murmuring whatever Wolfspeak is for "Aerial hunting, huh, lady? Just you fucking try climbing down from that thing. We can wait all night."