With so many entrants into the horror / thriller arena these days, including many with little interest in the genre itself beyond a quick buck, it's nice to see an independent film come along that appreciates the craft of scaring the audience, even if it's not perfect. That imperfect film is Andrew Hyatt's The Frozen.
The Frozen follows seemingly happy young couple Emma and Mike (Brit Morgan and Seth David Mitchell) on a camping and snowmobiling trip into the wilderness. Both are city kids, and familiar neither with camping nor snowmobiles. Adding to the tension is the fact that Emma discovered that morning that she's pregnant, and is distressed by the news, and hesitant to talk to Mike about it. This general anxiety merely simmers, until Mike glimpses a figure standing in the trees and promptly crashes the snowmobile.
The snowmobile is well and truly broken, and now the couple is stuck in the remote countryside, with no easy way to get back through the ten miles of heavy snow to their truck. They decide to remain inside their tent overnight and figure things out in the morning. Things only go downhill from here. Mike continues his vain attempts to repair the snowmobile while his relationship with Emma degrades. Her admission of her pregnancy doesn't help the situation. Then the strange noises start, and they both catch glimpses of the silent man holding a rifle, who seems to be following and watching them.
Writer / director Andrew Hyatt appreciates the mechanics of horror and thriller movies, which many do not, especially those of with artier pretensions. Though the film veers slightly into didacticism at the end, for the most part, Hyatt is interested in the straightforward task of providing scares and a pervasive sense of dread, and he knows how to do it. He uses the eerie quiet and inky darkness of the isolated campsite very much to his advantage. Figures are half glimpsed in the trees, noises that could be voices or footsteps are barely heard outside the tent, Emma's frenetically moving flashlight obscures more than it illuminates in the night. The creepiness is slowly ratcheted up throughout the film, with a high degree of skill, which leads to something of a letdown as the payoff is much less than the rest of the film deserves. As the tension is reaching something of a crescendo, the film begins to slow down, and go a bit mushy. They style changes significantly, and the mood as well. The film becomes much more reflective, but the sudden switch leaves the viewer wondering exactly what kind of movie they've been watching.
The film tends to be a bit confused about what it's trying to be generally, and this lack of focus drags it down, most dramatically in the last fifteen minutes or so. And the twist ending can be figured out without too much difficulty by about half way through. The performances are good, though, particularly Brit Morgan as Emma. She has to run through a wide range of emotional extremes and does so convincingly. There are a few oddly off character moments, such as Emma being much less concerned than a normal person would be when Mike mysteriously disappears at one point, but these seem more like directorial errors than performance.
This thematic schizophrenia is the biggest downfall of The Frozen, but if you can set that aside and simply experience the film, you'll enjoy yourself. Andrew Hyatt knows how to draw in and frighten and engage an audience, and perhaps in future projects will hone his focus. This one's Recommended.
The movie is shown in 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks very good. There's a little grain here and there, but otherwise it's near perfect. The images are clear and bright, with the stark whites of the snowy wilderness contrasted against the sharply defined synthetic colors of the tents and camping gear. The majestic landscape is shown to great advantage as well. This is a good looking film.
Audio is available in both Dolby digital 5.1 and 2 channel, and both sound good. Silence punctuated by ambiguous noise is very important to the success of the film, and the viewer feels situated and present as the skittering and whispering and what have you envelop them. Dialogue is always clearly audible, and no hiss or other problems can be detected. No subtitles or alternate language tracks are included.
The extras are disappointingly slight: previews for Hell and Greystone Park, and a somewhat overwrought trailer for the feature are all that is included.
Andrew Hyatt has his execution and technique down pat. He's made a beautiful film, and (mostly) directed his performers well. If he had a sharper focus and more of a sense of thematic and stylistic cohesion, The Frozen could have been an exceptionally good film. As it is, it's only pretty good. But it's still a fun ride. Check it out.