Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Frozen (Blu-Ray)

As an exercise in relentless tension and unnerving realism, Adam Green's Frozen is a shining example. It starts casually enough, Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore, X-Men) and his best friend Dan (Kevin Zegers) and Dan's ball and chain on the mountain for a day of skiing and boarding, though dumbed down to the beginners slopes since Parker (Emma Bell), the intrusive aforementioned ball and chain, is still learning how to navigate a snowboard. Still, it's a day of loose bonding and hinges on the success of Parker conning the lift operator to let her and the other two up the mountain without passes. The rapport between the three characters is relaxed and candid, and often funny. They opt to try for one final run toward the end of the night, and through a series of unfortunate occurrences end up stranded on the lift before they're able to get on the slope.

If you were unsure about the film up to now, then I can't recommend you stick with it enough. From here, the tension it builds up is knuckle-whitening and almost grueling. A shocking series of events that work on such a base level it's absurdly unnerving. Part of the reason why I think it works so well on so many emotional levels is because of the plausibility of the scenario. Anyone who's been on a ski-lift has also been on a ride that's stopped, leaving you to ponder as many what-if scenarios as you can fathom before the cable resumes movement and you make your way to the top of the run. Would you try to wait it out? Jump? Try to climb to the nearest tower and use the maintenance ladder to get to the ground? This is an experiment in which all of those options are explored thoroughly, and leaves the viewer with outcomes as severe as you might mentally dredge up.

Yes, the answers to the previous questions here are exceptional, even extreme. Adam Green wrote this as a basic worst case scenario in which it plays out remarkably similar to the also excellent Open Water. But in both films the setting is stripped down to the bare necessities, leaving only character exposition and the immediate locale responsible for carrying the viewer's interest through the duration. If there was no chemistry or believability between the leads then the film itself would fail utterly. Thankfully, Parker is a fantastic lead who's likable and Dan and Joe are affable in their roles to where you do unintentionally invest some in their roles prior to knowing the outcome. Not only is their chemistry together viable and important, but the effectiveness of Frozen also hinges on their delivery, which here is taut and and stressed, both by the scenario and by the developments established within their relationships.

Aside from the script and delivery, not to mention the imposing direction of Adam Green, the setting itself plays as vital a role as any of the actors. This isn't some amped up Hollywood CGI fiasco or bunk soundstage with confetti snow. Green and crew are actually filming on location in the dead of winter, which lends to the impressiveness of the actors abilities to focus so well on their characters as well as to the legitimacy of the surroundings and cinematography. Every shot is framed uniquely here, using angles to exemplify the environment and really shed light on the predicament. Gifting the picture with a sense of vertigo and cold helplessness, each shot is awesome, and every take the viewer is left marveling at the slopes below the chair or the trees in the distance.

Visually Frozen is undeniably low budget fare, which is fine because the definition of each shot is superb. Detail is high and the picture clear, and it definitely gives a sense that you're there in each scene, especially shots showcasing that awesome sense of vertigo I mentioned earlier. Black levels are just about perfect here, and there's really no edge enhancement or DNR applied to the film at all. It's digitally shot, so there's also no grain, but that's really not much of a deficit here no matter how much of a purist you may consider yourself. Honestly, this is one of the best visual presentations I've seen these last few months, and for something this independent you're not likely to see much better.

When it comes to the audio, what can I say. It's more than adequate. I'd really be talking way over my head if I tried to come off as a true audiophile here, since my system is simply a 2.1 home speaker kit wired to the television rather than a PC. I think it cost me like, $100? Not the grand or more true audiophiles will drop on the sound for their home theaters. There are some scenes that are awfully quiet, and some others that are awfully loud, but that's ultimately due to they huge dynamic range present in high definition audio, and unfortunately I don't have the means to exploit that. But hell, it sounds good. To me anyway.

I touched a bit on the supplements earlier, and there are plenty to be had here. A series of featurettes that goes pretty deep in exposing the lengths that the film's production went to in becoming available to the movie-going public. Of special note for the included documentaries is the one titled "Beating the Mountain: Surviving Frozen", which really throws down how grueling an experience Frozen was to go through the production process on, and has a ton of cast exposition and insights from director Adam Green. There are also several commentaries, though how likely it is that I'll get to any of them is debatable... I'm just not generally a fan of listening to people talk about their movie with the movie playing with few exceptions. And annoyingly as is the case with any Anchor Bay release, there's a ton of forced trailers at the beginning of the disc. Granted once they start you can fast forward through them, but it's still quite obnoxious. Also of note, the disc had some major problems playing on my Samsung BD-P3600 blu-ray player. It was repeatedly rejected saying the disc was unplayable. Thankfully it was read without issues by both my PS3 and Oppo BDP-80.

Does it seem fair to say that I loved the movie? Yeah, it's been one of my more highly anticipated titles for some time now, and it's definitely no letdown. It delivers a relentlessly sinister tone and builds tension better than most other films of this caliber can ever hope to. Watching the events depicted in the film is grueling and terrifying for those more empathetic viewers who gain an attachment to any of the three likable leads, and easily results in clenched teeth and a place on the edge of your seat. The picture quality is awesome, especially for something with the budgetary restrictions Green sacrificed in order to work with a team as stoked on working on the film as any viewers should be to see it. Sound is great as well and there are some genuinely interesting and revealing supplements that should definitely follow the film if you've got the time. Being super anticipated, and the love-child of one of the most promising writer/directors working in American horror, I honestly can't recommend Frozen enough. You may not ever come back to it, but if my experience is telling at all you'll at least be riveted the first time through!

2 comments:

Dru Hast said...

Excellent description. I wasn't sure how low budget it might be but from what it sounds like it uses the "less is more" approach and it works well. I'll have to check this out. Great review bro!

Aaron said...

I have never, nor do I ever plan to be on a ski lift, fuck skiing, and much of ski culture. Snowsport bashing aside, I think I'm going to have to take back my whole "Jesuschrist that looks like a piece of shit movie" stance. I not only want to see it, I want to see it right this instant. Another great & detailed review by the master, don't ever hope to drag me skiing tho..
-A