A typical day on the slopes turns into a chilling nightmare for three snowboarders when they get stranded on the chairlift before their last run. As the ski patrol switches off the night lights, they realize with growing panic that they’ve been left behind, dangling high off the ground with no way down.
God I hate heights. Looking down from anything taller than a stepladder -- be it building, cliff face, tree house, carnival ride, or ski lift -- sends my feeble mind cart-wheeling off into falling-to-my-death fantasies (or worse, falling and surviving with a permanent and painful injury).
Dear Phobia, I'd like you to meet 'Frozen', a new film from writer-director Adam Green ('Hatchet'), which has a fantastically terrifying concept: three college students are trapped after hours one icy Sunday evening on a chairlift, dangling fifty feet in the air. And the real kicker… this smallish ski resort only operates on the weekends, so no one is coming to get them for almost a whole week.
Makes me sweat just thinking about it.
At the emotional core of the movie, we have a friendship triangle. Dan (Kevin Zegers) has been best friends with Joe (Shawn Ashmore) their entire lives, but Dan has a girlfriend now, Parker (Emma Bell). Parker and Joe aren't exactly BFFs so both relationships (Dan and Joe's, as well as Dan and Parker's) are strained. Both the acting and the characters in 'Frozen' are strong. While they might not be fully empathetic, everyone here is three-dimensional; the filmmakers succeeded in making the cast feel like actual friends. Well done.
But, while the film is smart and taps into natural fears, I didn't connect with it as much as I'd have liked -- the tricky part in reviewing this film is that most of my issues with the film come in the second half, so I can't really get into it without revealing plot points. Pardon me for being less specific.
Directing wise, I'm really impressed that Mr. Green wanted to shoot the whole movie on location, actually suspended fifty feet in the air, but at the same time, I'm not sure this real atmosphere was visually communicated to the audience. It clearly enhanced the actors' performances, but I never felt like I was going to fall, as opposed to something like 'The Descent' where I was sure I was always about to plummet or be crushed to death thanks to a perfect use of suspense. 'Frozen', sadly, doesn't take advantage of its surroundings as much as it could, relying on a camera style that is perhaps too close to the actors.
Furthermore, and again no spoilers here, all disaster or man vs. nature films are about making audiences say to themselves, "what would I do here?" The trouble for me is that I personally seemed to be at odds with what the characters were doing. Did I believe these characters would do these things? Yes, but after a while, I became less and less interested because as an armchair-quarterback, I would have done something different. The final act also has an element which I found less-than-believable given the film's Massachusetts setting. But perhaps these things won't bother you.
Overall, 'Frozen' is a great concept, well acted, and for the most part smartly executed, but for my money and time, I won't be revisiting this one often (and no, it's not cause I’m afraid, sheesh).
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Frozen' comes to Blu-ray on a single, dual-layer 50GB disc that does not appear to be region locked. Popping the disc into your player brings up a number of Anchor Bay/Starz forced trailers which must be individually skipped every time the film is played. As I happen to replay most films while writing their reviews in my office -- on a second generation Sony BD-S300 -- I noticed that I could only watch the forced trailers, but could never access the Main Menu. Perhaps this older player needs a firmware update, but early Blu-ray adopters beware. The film loaded flawlessly on my PS3, and I really enjoyed the Main Menu design and functionality. Kudos for putting the commentaries under language.
Glancing around the web, the critics are heaping praise onto this 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded Blu-ray (aspect ratio 2.40:1), but to be honest I just don't see it. Surprisingly shot on 35mm film (I thought it might have been 16mm), 'Frozen' is overly grainy and, at times, it feels like half the movie is out of focus. I suppose some will be happy that the film retains its original grain structure, but unlike 'Road to Perdition', this grain seems to cannibalize rather than enhance resolution. See the film's three leads during their daytime introduction; in place of facial sharpness and texture, we get muddy grain. Further, the technical challenges of shooting a movie suspended fifty feet in the air during the winter seem to have gotten the best of the focus, which leans towards soft (for prime examples of this, see the first ride up the chair lift). Clearly this is unintended because the filmmakers discuss having to digitally sharpen some of the material, and within scenes, there are striking variations of quality between shots.
The most surprising aspect of this transfer is that the dimly lit night exteriors actually look better than the daytime scenes. The blacks are purposefully crushed surrounding our characters in an inky abyss and they look fantastic. The negative seems to be in good condition as well; there are no marks, scratches or dirt to be found. Resolution has a few fine moments -- all the insert shots of the chairlift mechanisms are sharp and well textured, frost on facial hair is rich in detail, and there's a great moment involving a hand stuck to an icy metal bar. Skin tones are accurate for the chilly environments. And, despite the darkness, the colors are all vivid.
Overall, 'Frozen' looks just-okay on Blu-ray, and isn't going to become anyone's go-to demo material.
Unlike the picture, the film's 5.1 Dolby TrueHD surround sound track is very effective. Kudos to all involved. While it may not be the most aggressive thriller around, the tension oozes all around from the textured ambiance. There's blowing wind, creaking metal, squeaking wheels, and all sorts presented here as pure ear candy. It's quiet effective and makes good use of all channels. LFE is a little underserved, but that'sa minor quibble. And the Dialogue is always clear and mixed perfectly.
'Frozen' fans are in for a real treat. Two commentaries and a four in-depth featurettes. While there is some information overlap, the filmmakers and their behind-the-scenes team did a nice job documenting the film.
'Frozen' has a great concept and it's an often tense film with well drawn characters, but in the end it isn't something that I would purchase for repeat viewings. In regards to picture and audio qualities, I enjoyed the technical Dolby TrueHD surround sound track much more than the film's grainy and often out of focus picture. I seem to be in the minority on that one, but I'm picky, and a good-looking Blu-ray this is not. Fans of the film will most likely enjoy the HD resolution and the making-of featurettes, though if you're like me, you may want to check it out before buying. For those who have never seen 'Frozen', give it a rent, it might just scare the crap out of you, but don't expect stunning high-defintion.