20 October 2010
I've been researching horror and "contained thriller" story ideas for a while now, and in a lot of ways Frozen is just what I'm looking to do, so I knew I'd have to see it. I had no idea, however, just how unpleasant an experience this was going to be.
The characters were unlikable in a really incredible way. I mean, it's a horror-ish film (pleasantly, and for a change, there was nothing supernatural, just man vs. bad situation and vs. savage nature) and I sometimes think they try to give you unlikable characters so you can have fun watching them suffer and die. I haven't seen it, to be honest, but I suspect this might be the Paris Hilton-in-House of Wax Effect. But this was different. These weren't characters I wanted to see suffer and die (nor did I get the impression I was supposed to); these were just three unbearably banal people. They look like and for the most part talk like Bros, but they have dialogue like discount knock-off Kevin Smith characters. On so many levels the dialogue tries too hard -- it tries too hard to remind us of the peril, to tell us what the character is feeling, to provide backstory and development through clichés and generic pop nostalgia, and to charm with references to Lucky Charms and obscure Star Wars monsters.
The problem is, Frozen doesn't try in a lot of places where it needs to. The shots, the editing, and the pacing never seem to know what do with themselves, so I'm probably equally tense from frustration that this experience isn't visceral enough as from anything seen on screen, even when the stuff on screen is fairly gruesome. (I had an almost identical reaction to the should-be-horrific early parts of Awake.)
Plus, it doesn't seem to care to keep track of the perils it inflicts on its three semi-characters. There's a lot of talk of frostbite, and we see some reasonably gross (to think about; not terribly convincing looking but that's okay) frostbite-caused badness; there's a lot of talk of needing to pee as well, and the girl even wets herself. I kept expecting all these things to accumulate into some kind of super gross-out climax, but none of them amount to anything. She peels all the skin off her bare right hand, but when she needs it, she uses it with seemingly no problem. Much is made of Joe's gloves being cut through by the "razor sharp" cable as he climbs across to the pole, but apart from some blood in the snow it doesn't come up again. Most notable of all, though, is (SPOILER) when Dan becomes wolf dinner, I know that Joe was trying to be nice and didn't want Parker to see, but we want to see it. At least a little bit. Tease us. It's gruesome when you tease us. It's boring when I'm watching two not-amazing actors cry at each other for two minutes while the score does a thing. And then? And then Dan's body is just... gone. They never even show us the aftermath. The next morning it's gone -- dragged off? no bloody trail? When Parker finally lands in what has to be the exact same spot, the snow is clean and clear. I mean, ignoring how confused I was when she passed through the bloody remains of Joe because I thought that might have been Dan, it would have been a great visceral reminder of everything they've been through if some part of the body was there off camera right or something. (I think at one point early on we see a perfectly clean hand sticking out of the snow, unmoving. That's our aftermath shot.)
So Frozen toys with graphic dismal slow death but it opts out of actually showing you anything or resolving its many sub-crises along the way. It puts three people I couldn't find less interesting in a ski lift and fills their interminable wait with conversations that mean nothing, go nowhere, and are totally artificial. It lacks sensationalism but it also lacks realism. It lacks supernatural terror but it also doesn't really sink its teeth into natural terror. On the one hand, I think to myself, maybe if I react this poorly to most similarly-styled contemporary horror films I should rethink attempting the genre. On the other hand, if the bar for writing is this low, maybe writing a smarter-than-average one is going to be easier than I thought.
I totally wanted to make some kind of bunny slope analogy there, but it's 1 AM and this movie didn't garner the kind of goodwill that encourages clever quips, to be honest. It's an energy-sucking movie. It gave me a lot to think about, because it is a contained thriller after all, but too much of it was unpleasant, and not all of its unpleasantness was the intentional horror-movie kind.
Is all of this arrogant? I know it's arrogant, but what do you want? It just doesn't feel like Adam Green put any thought into the reality of his story here. It doesn't probe very deep externally into the film's world or internally into these cardboard characters. It just doesn't feel like it's trying very hard. At the very least, I hope nobody will ever say that of my works. "What a lazy film."