Writer/Director: Andrew Hyatt
Featuring: Brit Morgan, Seth David Mitchell, Noah Segan
Whenever I went camping in the woods when I was a young'un, what scared me more than anything was being lost. There was something about the wilderness that seemed so…infinite, so all encompassing that if I went too far off the trail or lost contact with whoever I was with, I would never get back — it would swallow me whole. Now, combine that with tons of snow and oppressive cold.
Andrew Hyatt's feature length debut, The Frozen, reminded me mightily of that fear. The snowy mountain ranges depicted in the film are breathtaking in their beauty, but it doesn't take very long for that beauty to curdle into something very sinister.
We open on main character, Emma (Brit Morgan, best known for True Blood), staring intently at her reflection in a bathroom mirror. If you immediately deduced that she's pregnant by reading that previous sentence, you have officially seen too many movies, and you're right (seriously, filmmakers, knock it off with that shorthand). Her boyfriend, Mike (Seth David Mitchell), has booked both of them on a winter camping trip and rented a snowmobile. Emma's not really equipped for nature, but it's a way to avoid having a discussion she's not ready for.
Once Emma and Mike arrive at their campsite in the mountains, they set up quickly and go for a snowmobile tour. After a particularly nasty spill leaves the snowmobile inoperative, they wander back to their tent. With night falling and the weather getting worse, Mike and Emma hunker down. But something strange is going on: A mysterious hunter (Noah Segan of Looper and Cabin Fever 2) is seen staring at them from a distance, refusing to respond to their calls for help.
As the night progresses, Emma and Mike's relationship unravels, as the issues they both hoped to avoid are brought up. Emma keeps drifting off to sleep and having visions of strange people and blood-covered snow. And there's that hunter. What does he want?
The Frozen was shot on a modest budget (a paltry $1 million), but Wyatt makes good use of the scenery to evoke the sense of dread I mentioned earlier. There's a lot of color work — Wyatt is a big fan of contrasting red on white, which I must admit I'm a sucker for too. The film is languidly paced and has a low-fi score by James Grundler that's sometimes intrusive but really helps set the mood.
There's not much in the way of shock scares in The Frozen, though there are a few; Wyatt isn't interested in that sort of thing. The film is more about the psychological effects of isolation on an already troubled mind, in this case Emma's. Emma and Mike aren't really well drawn characters on the page — she's kind of selfish, and he's a drip — and while I suspect that may be part of the point, it can be difficult initially to sympathize with either of them.
That's where Brit Morgan comes in. Morgan's been pretty good in the recurring role of Debbie Pelt on True Blood, but here she proves she can carry a film. Emma may not be wholly likable, but Morgan plumbs the depths of her fear and tension, and her confusion about what to do with her pregnancy, and makes her a character worth rooting for (Mitchell isn't nearly as good as Morgan, but that's not a problem for too long). It's worth noting that when the film starts to lag, Morgan keeps viewers' attention. Even if you don't find Emma likable, she doesn't deserve what she goes through.
And, man, it takes a while for her to go through it. The Frozen clocks in at the usual 90 minutes, but experienced viewers will suss out the mystery of Emma's situation long, long before she does. Hyatt tries his best to pace out his story, clues and reveals. There's even a totally bizarre dream sequence that wouldn't be out of place in a David Lynch movie, and it's really entertaining but doesn't really figure into the plot much and can't help but feel like padding (though I'm sure the actors appreciated being out of stuffy winter clothes for one day). If this were a one-hour episode of an anthology series, or a short film, there'd be enough story for it to be the right length. But, sadly, that's not the case.
Having said that, however, I'm going to give The Frozen a cautious recommendation because of the way it pays off. For most of the film, we see Emma freak out in the wilderness and the Hunter character stare at her menacingly from afar. Eventually, the two have a confrontation. And as I said, it's fairly easy to guess what's been going on the whole time. It's the way Hyatt chooses to depict this reveal that makes it different. Noah Segan's been playing meatheads and menacing villains for most of his short career and, yes, he's pretty creepy for the majority of the film. But Segan has to deliver an exposition-loaded speech (which, to Wyatt's credit, lampshades every plot point in the movie) in a way that casts him against the type he's been playing so far. And Morgan matches him beat for beat. It's a nice little moment. The movie also has a few messages to impart, but in a subtle enough way that I didn't mind, even if I disagreed.
Like Kaare Andrews' Altitude, The Frozen is an effective first attempt at a horror film, one let down only by a script that's not quite as polished as needed or fleshed out enough for feature length. It's also visually sumptuous and bodes well for Hyatt's upcoming feature, The Last Light. Just don't go sledding after you see it. Seriously. Don't.