'Frozen'

Like "Open Water" on a ski lift, pic takes horrifying "what if" concept and stretches it to 90 minutes.

Like “Open Water” on a ski lift, “Frozen” takes one of those horrifying “what if” scenarios (in this case, what if you got stuck on a chairlift and left dangling halfway up the slope for days) and stretches that slender concept to 90 minutes. Though better suited to a shorter format, “Frozen” turns on a universal-enough fear to attract the curious, if only to see where writer-director Adam Green could take the idea. Strangely, he doesn’t seem much interested in vertigo (the camera rarely looks down), deriving most of the film’s squirm-inducing tension from the weather, abandonment and wolves.

Yes, wolves. Don’t ask what they’re doing on the slopes of a fancy resort. It’s a cheat, but Green knows waiting for his characters to die of exposure isn’t nearly as scary if there’s not something with sharp teeth and an insatiable appetite circling below (“Open Water” had sharks, after all).

In order to justify “Frozen’s” feature length, Green pads the opening with 20 minutes of his three central characters skiing and scamming. Parker (Emma Bell) thinks soap-star-cute Dan (Kevin Zegers) could be “the one,” while awkward third wheel Joe (Shawn Ashmore) seems to resent her stealing the attention of his best friend.

Don’t be surprised if the movie’s most wince-inducing moments come not from the “disturbing images” (as the MPAA describes the sight of a leg bone sticking six inches out of one character’s ski pants) but rather of the bad acting and worse dialogue. By the time the trio hop on for one last run, we’re more than ready for fate to take a turn, which it does when someone at the bottom turns everything off — first the lift, then the lights.

Green insisted upon shooting everything on an actual slope in Utah, which explains why the camera angles are nearly all from below or chair-level. Anyone who’s ever ridden a lift, however, knows the passengers have a far more terrifying view, and Green is remiss not to play more on the aud’s fear of heights.

Since the plot literally has nowhere to go, “Frozen” is basically a waiting game. The characters pass the time by arguing (whose fault is it, and how long will it take people to realize they’re missing), and revealing how little their deaths will matter.

Whether, jumping, climbing or falling, each is going to have to find some way down to where the wolves are, and the suspense is greatest when they’re proactively trying to reach the ground. Green loves gore, and though he never shows the really grisly stuff onscreen, he takes great pleasure in revealing the bloody consequences of bad decisions, like falling asleep with your bare hand on the metal bar or rubbing that frostbitten patch on your face.

Injuries sound like eating cantaloupe, and there’s not nearly enough creaking or wind to put auds in the characters’ shoes. The makeup effects, however, look so realistic some viewers have gotten physically sick from the experience.

Frozen

Production

An Anchor Bay Films release of a Bigger Boat/ArieScope Pictures production in association with a Bigger Boat. Produced by Peter Block, Cory Neal. Executive producers, Tim Williams, John Penotti, Michael Hogan; co-producers, Jason R. Miller, Amanda Essick, Mark Ward. Directed, written by Adam Green.

Crew

Camera (color), Will Bart; editor, Ed Marx; music, Andy Garfield; production designer, Bryan A. McBrien; art director, Richard Olson; costume designer, Barbara J. Nelson; sound (Dolby Digital), Douglas J. Cameron; sound supervisor, Mathew Waters; special effects coordinator, Dean Miller; special effects makeup designer, Chris Hanson; line producer, Don Schain; assistant director, Craig Borden; casting, Nancy Nayor Battino. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 26, 2010. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Parker O'Neil - Emma Bell Joe Lynch - Shawn Ashmore Dan Walker - Kevin Zegers
With: Ed Ackerman, Rileah Vanderbilt, Kane Hodder, Adam Johnson, Christopher York, Peder Melhuse.

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