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Tuesday, February 2,2010

'Frozen' taps into fear of heights

By Cary Darling

In some circles, "Frozen" is being compared to last year's surprise hit "Paranormal Activity." Both are low-budget, lo-fi, indie frightfests in which actors you've never heard of are placed in claustrophobic jeopardy.

Yet, whereas "Paranormal Activity" pulsated with the dread of the supernatural, "Frozen's" fears are rooted in the seemingly mundane reality of nature inexorably taking its course. In that sense, the intermittently suspenseful "Frozen" is closer in spirit to the terrifyingly haunting 2003 film "Open Water" (a couple marooned in the middle of the ocean) and the far less successful stuck-in-the-middle-of-nowhere movie from last year, "The Canyon" (a couple marooned at the bottom of the Grand Canyon).

But in "Frozen," instead of the sea or the desert, it's the mountains. A twentysomething couple and a best friend are stranded in sub-freezing temperatures in a ski lift — with no cell phones, at closing time on a Sunday, with bad weather moving in. And the weekends-only resort won't open again for five more days.

Until that point, jocular Dan (Steve Zegers), girlfriend Parker (Emma Bell), and Dan's considerably shyer best-friend-for-life Joe (Shawn Ashmore) had been having a good time — even if Joe was a little put out that Parker was putting a wedge in the guys' friendship.

But those relationships are tested when the three of them realize that they might die together suspended high above a snowy wilderness. At its best, "Frozen" taps into the fear of heights and isolation, of the mounting anxiety that comes with knowing that death will be slow and painful.

Yet "Frozen" doesn't ratchet up the tension in the way that "Open Water" does. The acting isn't always convincing and director/writer Adam Green — who developed a bit of a cult following for his 2006 horror film "Hatchet" — takes his time getting the trio in the chair and, even then, he will back off some just when you expect him to go full-throttle.

Still, the threesome's constant conversation amid the building unease help establish them as characters that the audience can identify. By the end, it's almost impossible not to get pulled into their plight.

Some might be disappointed that there's nothing high-tech here. It's basically three people, a mountain, the weather — oh, and a few wolves (who, by the way, are much better actors than their lupine brethren in "The Canyon." Just sayin'.).

And don't expect this indie-film obsession with dying alone in an isolated spot to go away any time soon. One of the most talked-about films to come out of Sundance this year is "Buried," in which Ryan Reynolds tries to escape from a coffin for the entire movie. It almost makes being stuck in a dangling chair-lift seem not so bad.


3 stars (out of 5)

Director: Adam Green

Cast: Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, Kevin Zegers

Running time: 93 min.

Rating: R (disturbing images, strong language)

(c) 2010, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Visit the Star-Telegram on the World Wide Web at http://www.star-telegram.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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