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Friday, November 27, 2020

Facing the Elements: The Chilling Horrors of Adam Green’s ‘Frozen’ Ten Years Later

When I was in junior high and high school and involved in things like scouts and youth groups, we would play a slightly sadistic game. We would dare each other to watch the most inappropriate movies we could think of before heading out on big trips—just to psych each other out. Before a big camping trip, for example, we’d dare each other to watch Friday the 13th. Beach trip? Jaws. Going river rafting? How ‘bout a double feature of The River Wild and Deliverance. I am one hundred percent certain that, had it been around at the time, Adam Green’s Frozen would have been required viewing before any and all ski trips.

Green had made his name in horror with the bayou-bound, classic style slasher hit Hatchet in 2007. The movie made Victor Crowley a new horror icon and Adam Green a director to watch. His next feature as writer/director could not have been further from that film. Rather than a hot and sweaty setting with a maniac killer, Frozen focuses on three characters stuck on a ski lift for a sub-zero night and day and has no villain but nature and the elements. It is not a fantastical story with over-the-top gore effects, but fully grounded in a plausible, relatable, and frightening reality. 

The film’s greatest strength is its characters. If we, as the audience, are not on board with these three people, the film falls apart. At the center of this triad is Dan Walker (Kevin Zegers)—the glue that holds the three of them together. He and Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore, whose character name is a nod to Adam Green’s own close friend) have been best friends since first grade. They have a bond rarely found between young men in movies; one of deep, but completely platonic love for each other. Add Dan’s girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell) to the mix and you have a new dynamic. To Lynch, Parker is “Yoko” forcing herself into the middle of their “John and Paul” world. He clearly resents her, but leaves it unspoken. Still, his actions are antagonistic from the beginning.

The film then takes these characters and their interpersonal dynamics and puts them in an impossible situation, trapping them together in a ski lift chair on a Sunday night with the knowledge that the resort will not open again until the following weekend. The temperature is dropping rapidly and heavy weather is moving in. This is reminiscent of classic Hitchcock scenarios like Lifeboat (1944) which confine disparate characters to a small, single location. In many ways this is all just a device to strip away the veneer of friendly interactions, young brash masculinity, and personal toleration to see what these characters have left when faced with their own mortality. Ultimately, we find that they are good people at heart, but it takes pain, grief, rage, and fear to find that—and it isn’t always pretty along the way.

At first, the trio attempts to deal with their situation by shooting the normal college age bullshit to help each other feel some semblance of normalcy. They have an oddly inappropriate, but somehow hilarious discussion about the worst possible ways to die. Clearly, they are all thinking the same thing, but no one will actually say “freezing to death.” And for the record, Lynch is right, the Sarlaac pit is definitely the worst way to die.

The key moment that tests their limits is when Dan decides to jump from the lift, positing that even if he hurts himself, he can crawl down the mountain for help. He quietly admits to Lynch that he has to jump because he is too afraid to stay in the lift. Unfortunately, when he jumps, both legs break on impact. Hoping to help his friend, Lynch makes an attempt to climb along the cable to the nearest tower and climb down its ladder; but fear overtakes him, and he is unable to get very far. 

Then the wolves arrive.

Some may call the wolves the villains of the piece, but I disagree. The wolves in Frozen are not being evil, personal, or even particularly vicious. They are just being wolves and doing what wolves do. The natural world in this film is not a Freddy, Jason, or Victor Crowley—it doesn’t care that much. There is nothing personal here, no bloodlust or vengeance. It is merely the relentless, uncaring circle of life and death that takes Dan. As cold as it sounds, he is killed by the natural order of things. As the wolves surround him, Dan is clearly terrified but accepts what will happen and in his last moments calls out to Lynch, “don’t let her look!” Being the faithful friend, Lynch grabs Parker’s face to keep her from turning her head toward the carnage below as Dan is torn to pieces by the elements of this world that simply do not care about anything but their own survival.

Many meanings can be poured into the wolves. They are trauma, personal demons, depression, outside forces that destroy, even fear itself. Whatever they represent to each viewer, it all comes down to the fact that they do not care about you. The wolves of life are indifferent, which is something even more cruel than hatred or revenge. Their only instinct is to hunt, feed, and survive. The question becomes: how will each person deal with such impersonal, savage, and unrelenting forces?

Parker and Lynch are alone now. These antagonists must figure out how to get along well enough to survive. The scene following Dan’s death may be the most important and revealing in the film. Here, our two survivors have to face their grief. Parker begins to turn on Lynch. “Why did you let him jump?” Lynch responds with rage, blaming her not just for the moment Dan jumped, but for everything. If she hadn’t decided to come along, he and Dan could have spent the day together. If she hadn’t taken so much time getting down the mountain on earlier runs, they would have gotten in more ski time and wouldn’t have felt the need to take the last-minute lift back up. “Maybe if you had just stayed home and not tired to force yourself into every little aspect of his life my best friend wouldn’t be dead right now,” he screams at her. Parker’s response is a small, simple, and rather beautiful moment. Instead of lashing back, as she certainly has every right to do, she recognizes that fear and grief are doing the shouting. Instead of shouting back and escalating the situation even further, she slides closer to Lynch and leans against him. It is not a moment that conveys any sort of sexual tension or affection, but simple human understanding. It is a moment that says, “I know that you are hurting, and I am hurting too.” Lynch begins to apologize and says he didn’t really mean it. The fact is, though, that he does mean every word of it, but realizes that he can set it aside because he does care for Parker after all.

Again, purely in a sense of human connection and shared grief and experience.

The rest of the film alternates between attempts at escape and quiet moments, sometimes of silence, sometimes of dialogue between Parker and Lynch giving us great insights into both characters. Overnight, Parker’s hand is frozen to the safety rail, causing major wounds to her palm. She does not tell Lynch about it and hides her hand in her sleeve or coat pocket for the remainder of the film. Likewise, Lynch hides the fact that his hands have been severely wounded by his attempt to shimmy along the overhead cable. These kinds of quiet, strangely solitary moments are some of the best in the film. Both characters attempt to have moments of privacy though trapped together in this extremely small and decidedly not private space. 

At the end of the film, as Parker, the lone survivor, is being driven off to safety after her harrowing escape by the kindly person who finds her at the side of the road, I get a similar feeling to what I get at the end of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Parker is not raving and laughing as Sally is at the end of that movie, but I get the same sense that she will never fully recover from this. Parker may not have faced a family of homicidal cannibals and a chainsaw wielding maniac, but she does face elements just as relentless. Though her reaction is far more internal, Parker has made just as narrow of an escape.

As I write this, the weather is getting colder outside. My state is going into a second lockdown due to alarming increases in cases of COVID-19. Once again, my family and so many others across the country are returning to that “trapped inside together” feeling. Many of us have never left it. It is interesting to me that, ten years after its release, Frozen seems so very relevant to our situation in 2020. We are facing forces far beyond our control. Nature has produced something that is unrelenting and uncaring, affecting everyone, whether directly or indirectly, regardless of age, race, gender, economic status, fame, politics, or religion. It has respect for nothing but its own survival. But we are in this together, trapped in our own small cells, but still all facing the same elements. Frozen feels like a microcosm of that reality. Like Dan, Parker and Lynch, we need each other to make it through. We may not always get along. We may blame each other for things going wrong along the way, but now is the time to put our differences aside, draw together and admit that we are sharing this very human experience. 



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3642631/facing-elements-chilling-horrors-adam-greens-frozen-ten-years-later/

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