One of the films that played at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival's Midnight series, Adam Green's Frozen is the horror equivalent of a one-joke movie - except a lot better.
Take three college students, put them in mortal peril, then spend the rest of the film with them trying to figure out how to escape alive.
Filmmaker Chris Kentis did something similar in 2003, with Open Water, about a pair of scuba divers whose boat leaves them behind, miles from the nearest shore. In this case, the three protagonists are stranded on a ski lift way up a mountain, 30-plus feet off the ground.
There's a bunch of preamble before we get to the situation, a setup that establishes the characters in broad strokes. Dan (Kevin Zegers) and Joe (Shawn Ashmore) are lifelong buddies, slightly estranged since Dan hooked up with Parker (Emma Bell). It's Dan's idea that the three of them go skiing together so Parker and Joe can bond - but Parker is such a poor snowboarder that, at the end of the day, Joe has had no fun and wants to take one more run on something other than the bunny slope.
It's dark, the ski area is closing - but they convince the lift operator to let them go up. A mix-up ensues with his replacement, who shuts off the lift - and the lights - leaving the trio stranded in a lift chair several stories above the ground in the dark, with plummeting temperatures and a blizzard threatening. Plus, it's Sunday night - and the ski area won't reopen until the following Friday.
The film's final hour deals with their worsening situation and their attempts to escape. One of them decides to jump for it, with disastrous results - both in terms of his injury and the wolves that suddenly appear out of the woods. These wolves apparently hunt around the clock, which poses a continuing threat to the two who survive.
Green ably creates the tension of expected and inevitable consequences. Jumping presents a hazard; not jumping presents problems of its own, because frostbite and hypothermia are genuine threats. The effects of the cold on a bare hand clutching the safety bar for too long are, excuse the pun, chilling to watch.
There are those moments when the viewer will second guess the characters, but just as often, Green succeeds in playing the "what would I do in that situation?" card, forcing the audience to put itself in the place of the characters and imagine how difficult it would be to survive.
There's nothing fancy about Frozen. Indeed, Green is to be commended for keeping the audience from noticing the challenges he faces in essentially creating the equivalent of a one-room - or one- location - thriller. In that sense, Frozen succeeds at pulling you in and not letting you go until it reaches the end.