Suspense flick relies on tension not action

What would be the worst way to die? Many have competed with friends to see who can conjure up the most horrific causes of death at one time or another, but the uncomfortable question has wormed its way into everyone’s brain at some point. The thought of these cringe-inducing situations might send shivers down one’s spine, but they have also become a twisted form of entertainment that mega-film franchises such as Saw and Hostel have thrived off of for several years. Writer-director Adam Green has recently entered the ongoing cinematic competition to create the most gruesome death scenario with his new film, the 2010 Sundance Film Festival selection, Frozen.

Help · Writer-director Adam Green employs Hitchcock-like suspense in his latest horror thriller, Frozen. The film follows three snowboarders after they get stuck on a ski list after the slopes close for the evening. - Photo courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment

The film finds three college students on a weekend skiing trip stranded on a chair lift before their last run of the night. Green, a Massachusetts native, credits his experiences as a young adult skiing at inexpensive resorts complete with shady chair lifts as a major source of inspiration for the story. Enlisting the help of up-and-coming actors, including X-Men’s Shawn Ashmore, the director ambitiously set his sights on achieving a Hitchcockian level of suspense and terror in Frozen.

The concept is undeniably  intriguing. The movie poster’s depiction of a skier dangling off the edge of an ice-crusted chair lift is a brilliant visual representation of the concept’s simplicity and appeal.

Unfortunately, the idea’s novelty factor wears thin fairly early in the picture, and it becomes obvious that the feature film format is simply not the correct medium to execute this story. The filmmakers have stretched out what could have been a genius short film idea or a shamelessly exciting half hour of television into a lumbering 90 minutes of mostly cheap thrills, bone-splitting gore and narcolepsy-inducing dialogue relieved by a few genuinely intense sequences of terror.

Such a high concept idea will inevitably leave many viewers sidetracked by questions pertaining to the feasibility of each event. In the present age of constant communication, for instance, how probable is it that not one of the college students decided to bring along their cell phones on a late-night ski run?

On the other hand, to overanalyze this horror-suspense thriller created for the sole purpose of entertaining audiences is to commit movie sin number one. An audience that nitpicks every inconsequential detail instead of enjoying the movie as a whole would dishearten any director who has labored for months or years crafting his work.

In that spirit, viewers should judge Frozen first and foremost by its ability to create suspense in its audience. This was no easy task for the filmmakers. Similar to the spaceship Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s terrifying and claustrophobic masterpiece Alien, the chair lift in Frozen provides Green with the daunting mission of building tension through the use of camera angles and movement in an equally confined space. Frozen regrettably forgets that a successful suspense thriller fills the confined space it occupies with the presence of strong, complex characters such as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character in Alien.

In the fashion of today’s gore fests like the Saw series, audiences are treated to a variety of blood-spattered sequences that will leave them squirming in their seats. The camera does not budge as we see a close-up of the palm of a hand frozen to the lift’s restraining bar tear off as easily as an orange peel. Nor does it avert its focus from the shattered bones sticking out of a severely broken leg. However, like the suspense thrillers of yore with their comparatively primitive makeup effects, it is when the audience does not see the gore that it become most frightened. After one skier jumps off the lift and becomes paralyzed on the ground, the camera focuses on the grimacing faces of his best friend and girlfriend as we hear the blood-curdling screams and desperate pleas of the victim as he gets ripped apart by a pack of ravenous wolves.

The sequence is more disturbing than any visual display of extreme gore shown in the current trend of “torture porn” horror films.

In a script laden with references to classic Spielberg films, the conversation between the two best friends about whether seeing the shark fin come slicing through the water at you is worse than an unknowing surfer being attacked from below perfectly sums up the problem with Frozen.

We watch as the shark fin advances closer to us, but the film’s emphasis on gore and lack of strong characters leaves the cinematic thrill seeker with the same disappointment as discovering that the fin is being steered by two teenage pranksters instead of a real, ruthless man-eating machine.