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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Van of the Dead Movie Review: Frozen

It’s no secret the horror film today is in a quandary. While the health of the genre is fiercer than ever in terms of practitioners and fans, the reality of things is horror has struck a creative dead-end. Zombies rule one sector of horror like glittery peons of dark cinema turned farce. Meanwhile, Hollywood and uber-jealous neophytes who wish they’d been age-appropriate to catch the seventies and eighties classics in the theaters have bastardized the genre’s modern beloveds with cash cow remakes.

Almost anyone can make a horror film these days if they have the resources plus a game cast and crew eager to slop it up, ditch sleep and submit to the reality their work is likely to be scoffed at by sanitized society. Adam Green is a marvelous example of a film director throwing down his moxy for the love of the horror genre with the understanding his films are going to corral both praise and scrutiny.

The mastermind behind the gleeful splatter canvas of Hatchet and co-producer of the disturbing fetus-from-hell haunt Grace hits a deeper nerve with Frozen, a film which will terrify skiers and snowboarders to their bone marrow—and it’ll even tweak non-snow bunnies.

What worked brilliantly for 2005’s The Descent (and for the most part its sequel) carries the same far-flung mojo as Frozen hurls its viewers into an authentic terror zone where fun becomes folly and daring becomes dangerous. Reckless conduct and an arrogant disregard for the elements entrap a posse of femme spelunkers in The Descent. For Adam Green’s purposes in Frozen, the same conjecture applies.

A trio of college friends, Joe, Dan and Parker (Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers and Emma Bell respectively) find themselves thrust into one of the most fearsome predicaments conceived in a horror film. One pushy thrill too many leads two lovebirds and a third wheel into a perilous perch atop a shut down ski lift where, by misadventure, they’re left for dead.

Green's set-up of Frozen is a pretty astute study of fifties horror noir ala Hitchcock with a nasty irony and an even nastier pitfall of frostbite, three-below storm conditions and a hungry pack of wolves to up the ante. While Dan and his innocently-intrusive girlfriend Parker try to honor a long-standing skiing tradition with Dan’s stoner buddy Joe, the tension between the three leads to a closing-time night run down the slope. The group has already badgered and huckstered the piss out of the ski lift operator Jason (Ed Hackerman) and in a series of well-written mishaps they are inadvertently forgotten, left to fend for themselves dangling in midair.

Let’s increase the anxiety level by mentioning Frozen’s plot occurs on a Sunday night as the ski resort is only open from Friday to Sunday—such a real scenario exists, per Green in the special features. The grounds staff is packing things up, shutting down the lights, calling it a weekend. Three college kids left all floppity at more than 1,000 feet. Scary enough for you? Thus the premise of Frozen is basic yet petrifying: what do you do?

By narrowing his cast to a threesome already on each others’ nerves and plunging them into a horrific catastrophe where sitting on the lift chair is only one way to die, Adam Green maximizes Frozen’s shivery reason for being: to exploit a very real life possibility by preying on his audience’s paranoia. Appendages numb and blister, skin sticks to the icy bar and rips away. Hypothermia or wolf attack, you decide which is worse.

While the central dialogue establishing his lead characters is so-so and not really all that endearing for the first quarter of the film, it’s the jagged exchange between Joe and Parker which escalates once the film hits its brutal stride. Green grinds Dan up by flinging him to a shattering dismount from the lift chair and ultimately serving him up as wolf chow. At this point, Frozen really gets its fang, pun intended, as two adversaries must depend on each other to survive. Although one does wonder how three Generation Tech’ers don’t have a cell phone amongst them. Hmmmm...

The photography of Frozen is stellar, both in the night and day sequences. Mountainous grandeur becomes a wintry hellhole. Meanwhile, you can’t take your eyes off the wonderment of the steep Utah landscape, even as you’re desperately trying to figure out how Green is going get these kids free--if he gets them free. His cameras reach on high to capture the unsettling vertigo of Dan, Joe and Parker’s snowy death sentence. No tricks, no CGI, this is the real deal and that in itself is pretty damned frightening.

Adam Green conceived Frozen in quick time while overseeing the production of Grace, proving the guy is clutch. With this film, Green displays further wherewithal and a vast eye for visual aesthetics to make a successful run in the horror business. No Freddies or Jasons reborn (albeit Kane Hodder is involved in this film as stunt coordinator) and no undead brodowns for Green; Frozen is a back-to-basics fear factory which catches up from its slow build to become a memorable warning against dim-witted thrill-seeking.

This is what we need in horror right now.


Metal Mark said...

"Hollywood and uber-jealous neophytes who wish they’d been age-appropriate to catch the seventies and eighties classics in the theaters have bastardized the genre’s modern beloveds with cash cow remakes"
Now I won't argue with you about the quality of recent horror remakes, but it's not like every decade since the 70's hasn't had it's share of horror remakes. Some like Nosferatu (1979) and the Fly (1986) while others like the '76 version of King King and the '99 version of the Haunting certainly had fans of the originals shaking their heads and wondering why the writers of the day couldn't write something of their own that was worth a crap.
On the other hand nowadays they don't even re-make good movies when you consider that a second rate 80's slasher film like My bloody valentine gets remade. I guess making it in 3-D was enough of a novelty to draw some people in.

Back to the main topic. This movie sounds interesting. It's good to hear that someone realized "horror" can mean more than revolving around meat hacking slashers, flesh eating undead or some gigantic mutant creature.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Now that you have that off your chest, hahaha. At the The Blob of the eighties was pretty good and every generation has to do all the classic monsters in their time. I'm not ripping ENTIRELY on remakes since the new DOTD was surprisingly good and though incredibly flawed and annoying in spots, both of Rob Zombie's Halloween films intrigue me to certain latitudes. At least he made them his. The Fly remake you mentioned was great, BTW. The newest King Kong was also cool, but nobody wants to even admit they watched the 70s Kong, ugh, even when it was all we had to watch on network tv as kids.

My wife gave me a copy of MBV 3-D for Valentine's Day and the 3-D is really, really cool. Otherwise, a pretty lousy film, but like the Piranha 3-D this year, they obviously weren't going for a good story, just using a franchise vehicle to employ a gimmick. I haven't seen Piranha 3-D but everyone says the film is awful but intentionally so in the interest of making a fun 3-D experience, kind of like Gorilla at Large.

I'm just sick and tired of seeing SO MANY of the films we grew up with being remade right now. Hollywood's bored and uninterested in hunting down the creative forces out there with new concepts and then you have new gen directors licking their chops to remake Elm Street, F13th, The Omen, Chainsaw, Last House, etc. etc. It's inexcusable HOW MANY they're doing. Shit, man, there's even a Day of the Dead remake which nobody went to see or endorse. Ridiculous.

Frozen is a very cool film overall and I interviewed Adam Green last night who was just fabulous and we got into some really neat and sometimes hilarious stories about getting his wolves into play in the film. This movie is purely psychological with shades of gore, but even Adam told me he trimmed the gore intentionally because he thought what we don't see happening to his cast is far more frightening. I agree. The gore comes as a special feature, hahaha...but I like the fact he takes something basic and primal and exploits it to a high degree.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...
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Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...
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Metal Mark said...

The Fright Night re-make will be out next year.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

yeah, and the I Spit On Your Grave remake is also coming, reportedly even more explicit, as if the original wasn't hardcore enough

Metal Mark said...

I don't go to the movies that much. I do have access to seeing almost anything that comnes out on DVD for free, but I rarely pay attention to that many current movies.

Never saw I spin on your grave and never had the desire to.