High Wire Act

frozen High Wire ActFrozen
Running time 94 minutes
Written and directed by Adam Green
Starring  Emma Bell, Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore

Rating: Three Eyeballs out of Four
rex%20three%20eyeballs High Wire Act

Prepare to be electrified. Frozen is a brilliantly conceived, gut-wrenching horror film about three vital, healthy, appealing and attractive skiers whose perfect snow day turns into a nightmare when they get stranded on the chair lift after dark. This is every skier’s worst fear, and the talented writer-director Adam Green gives it life in ways that will leave you impacted long after the 94 minutes of unrelenting suspense have ended. Calm and jaded as I am, I was left so paralyzed with terror by this movie that I chewed a whole pencil in half watching it.

Everyone who has ever gazed up at a slope pounded with fresh snow wonders what it would be like to get lost 10,000 feet in the air on a deserted slope with a blizzard on the way. But the three chums in Frozen don’t even get to the slope. Dan, his girlfriend, Parker, and his best friend, Joe (Kevin Zegers, Emma Bell and Shawn Ashmore), have finally bribed their way onto the ski lift in time for the last run of the day. Night is falling, the lights go out, the mechanism stops and the mountain won’t open again until the following weekend. The staff thinks the final head count has been taken and heads for the parking lot below in snowmobiles. What might ordinarily be an easily solved mechanical problem turns into a worst-case scenario on the level of Open Water, the unforgettable horror movie about two scuba divers accidentally left behind in the shark-infested Caribbean. This time the snow takes the place of water, but the end result is every bit as pulse-poundingly ghastly. This game trio, anxious to escape the chaos of routine by spending some quality time together, is resourceful, young and physically fit, but as the stages of psychological panic progress, starvation, frostbite and hysteria take their toll. To keep from going crazy, they try to pass the time with games (“What is the best-selling cereal of all time?”; “Name the three celebrities you’d most want to do you”), but nothing works. Dan tries to hang on to his slowly fading manhood with words of encouragement (“We’re going to get through this, O.K.?”) but dropping a glove, gripping a frozen pipe that rips the skin off the hand and enduring the howling wind are ordeals for which nobody can prepare. Dan finally leaps 50 feet to the ground below to go for help and breaks his leg in the fall. Just when you think nothing worse can happen, along comes a pack of wolves. It’s one damn thing after another, but I will clam up now. This is one hair-raising adventure guaranteed to keep you frozen yourself.

Frozen is the best kind of horror film, about innocent people plunged into mind-boggling circumstances beyond their control. I predict instant word-of-mouth success at the box office, but it’s no fad or phenomenon. Made by real pros, and having lasting shock value, it is miles above and beyond such temporary distractions as The Blair Witch Project (an amateurish fluke it resembles in no way except a shoestring budget) in quality, artistry and appeal. Every aspect of the nightmare is captured as realistically as breathing by director Green, and his screenplay miraculously finds the time to develop character and build rapport between the excellent actors and the audience. Mr. Green does a masterful job of balancing action in the air with the terrible events on the ground below. The screenplay perfectly captures the way people think and talk under stress, and it’s amazing how much variety there is in the camera work. The whole thing was shot high above the ground, in punishing subzero temperatures in a real snowstorm, on an actual lift so dangerous it could accommodate only the director and one cameraman. (The actors helped change the camera lenses.) There’s nothing phony here, and Mr. Green makes every micro-second count. The result is a maximum of terror without a single computer-generated image or fake special effect.

Frozen is the kind of must-see horror film I can only equate with coming face to face in the garden with a hungry crocodile.

rreed@observer.com