Monday, October 11, 2010

Adam Green's Frozen: The key to good horror is relatability

A couple of weeks ago I caught the movie Frozen on DVD. In a nutshell, the premise is that three college kids manage to bribe their way onto a ski resort without buying lift tickets, only to find themselves stuck on the lift halfway up the mountain when the resort closes early for the week due to an incoming storm. See, since they're not part of the official head count, no one in charge even knows they're missing.

So there they are - stuck on the stopped ski lift, dangling fifty feet from the ground. A major storm is coming in and since this is Sunday night the resort is closed all week until Friday. They have three choices: wait, jump, or try to climb on the wire until they get to a tower and then climb down. Waiting means freezing to death, jumping is sure to cause serious injury, and it's almost impossible to climb on those metal wires, to say nothing of the upper body strength needed.

I really don't want to spoil what happens because this is one of those films that really makes good use of tension. Giving away anything else might spoil some of that for first time viewers and this is a film that really needs to be experienced fresh. Director Adam Green also gets in several vertigo-inducing shots that remind us just how high up these guys are and there are several moments that are very difficult to watch. It's not that the violence is exceptionally graphic, but the situation and the peril are very intense in places.

These are probably my favorite kind of thrillers - the ones that play on everyday fears. These are the stories that spring from the "what if one little thing went wrong?" voice in the back of your mind. "What if I went scuba diving and the boat accidentally left me in the middle of nowhere?" (Open Water) "What if I go in for surgery and the anastetic only paralyzes me but doesn't knock me out?" (Awake) "What if I ran into a shark while swimming near the beach?" (Jaws).

Who hasn't been on a ski lift or a roller coaster and found themselves wondering "What happens if this thing breaks right when we get to the highest point?"

To me, those sort of everyday fears are a thousand times more scarier than demonic possession, alien invasions and deformed slashers who stalk women in their underwear. (The women are the ones in their underwear, obviously. A deformed slasher in his underwear might be almost as scary as being stuck on a ski lift.)

That's the root of all horror: "It could happen to me." Remember that when you craft your own horror/thrillers.


  1. I haven't seen the film, and think that it would be something fun to see. However, even thrillers have to have some sense that this COULD happen. And in the year 2010, this would NEVER happen. Maybe it's because I grew up IN a major ski resort town and my brother was a ski lift operator, but, when you said "relatability", you lost me on a couple key LOGISTICAL things that makes this premise preposterous. First off, No ski resort will close an ENTIRE WEEK for a storm, unless it's a hurricane (which never happen in mountains, so there you go), and even mountain blizzards are NOTHING like hurricanes, and if there are wind storms they rarely happen for a whole week. And in mountain towns we're used to BAD WEATHER. The only time I missed school for weather was when it was so cold the school buses couldn't start. NEVER FOR SNOW, and we got LOTS OF IT. A bad snow storm actually is good for the ski resort's economy, and they would never shut it down for entire days on end for a week. They might close certain lifts. Maybe they'd go day-to-day, if the weather was THAT bad. Then there's the fact that Lift Ops ALWAYS mark the last chair when to shut it down, and are in communication with the guy at the top. And even after that, how do you think the guy on the top gets down? Either taking the lift down or Skiing. And then there's the end of day sweep by Ski Patrol (who would certainly do this if there was a bad storm approaching) JUST to make sure that no one is still on the mountain.

    I'm just saying... I know, this film isn't supposed to be "serious", it's supposed to be fun. The stranded in the cold part sounds terrifying. And again, i haven't seen it yet, and maybe the above stuff was easily explained away in cheap lines of dialog, but I can't sense the tension, when the situation just isn't that plausible to begin with. That's what separates great thrillers from B- to even worse ones. They research the facts enough to make it plausible. That's why Buried is at 86% Rotten Tomatoes and Frozen was only 60% (25% from top critics).

  2. @johnnyboymalloy - "suspension of reality" is important for most films to work. The fact that a majority of the audience never worked at a ski resort allows us to accept the premise fairly easily. To us it seems reasonable. It's not like they're saying "What if your toaster suddenly started producing full-sized WWII-era B-52's from it's slots." That's impossible to picture as real.