Five years after it first premiered at Sundance and was quietly released into a handful of theaters, Adam Green’s Frozen might still be his best film. It’s certainly his most accessible: unlike the goopy splatterfests that are his Hatchet movies or the brooding psychodrama of Spiral — all of which are great in their respective ways — the terrors of Frozen are universal. It’s the kind of movie that speaks to everyone in the audience: What Would You Do If…?

The premise is brilliant simplicity: three friends — couple Dan (Kevin Zegers) and Parker (Emma Bell) and third wheel Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore, playing a character named after Green’s real-life best friend and fellow director) — find themselves stranded on a ski lift in freezing temperatures with no rescue in sight for at least five days.

That description barely scratches the surface of what Green has in store, as his screenplay keeps devising ways to tighten the screws and throw new conflicts at its three characters. Sometimes the threats are external, be it frostbite or skin that has gotten stuck to a steel pole or a crippling injury or, worst of all, a pack of hungry wolves sensing a snack. Slowly, though, the internal conflicts begin to wear them down, too — blame, resentment, anger, fear. In terms of creating tension and dread, Frozen is so good that it’s uncomfortable to watch.

Green’s insistence on shooting the movie on practical locations (Snowbasin Resort in Mount Ogden, Utah, to be exact) is the film’s masterstroke. Correctly predicting that audiences wouldn’t buy the characters’ plight if the movie was filmed on a stage, he took his actors and his crew out into the real cold and shot them at real heights, lending the proceedings a sense of authenticity and danger. Longtime collaborator Will Barratt’s cinematography circles around the lift chair, constantly reminding the audience just how high up these characters — and, by extension, these actors — really are, suspending them in midair as an isolated speck in the vast, empty wilderness. The use of practical locations and practical stunts (and, contrary to what some have said, practical wolves) is endlessly effective and chilling. Pardon the pun.

The most horrifying moment in the film comes when the wolves finally close in on Dan, who, in the film’s grossest and most cringe-inducing moment, has broken both legs attempting to jump from the chair to the mountain and is rendered immobile. It’s not the thought of being helplessly eaten alive that unsettles (though, to be fair, that’s plenty horrifying), but rather Dan’s last request that Lynch stop Parker from seeing what is about to happen.

Getting eaten by animals is scary enough, but being aware of exactly what is coming is nightmare stuff. It’s a trope that Green has used to good effect before in Hatchet, whether it was Josh Leonard screaming “It hurts!” as Victor Crowley tore him apart or Parry Shen pleading with Crowley before having his head removed with a shovel. The characters in Green’s films — Frozen in particular — aren’t just victimized props of their own circumstances. They are always made aware of their own mortality, often with only moments of it remaining.

That’s because Green isn’t content to fill his films with stock characters. These are people who have lived lives prior to their respective plights. They have crushes and dreams they want to realize and they get their hearts broken. It’s true of his characters in the Hatchet films, it would go on to be true of his characters on Holliston and it’s true in Frozen. His screenplay doesn’t rely solely on the central gimmick, but instead puts the focus on the genuine human drama of the situation. It’s why the most talked-about scene in the movie isn’t one of the (few) gore moments or a daring stunt, but instead a monologue in which Parker weeps for her dog, left home alone to starve to death once she’s gone. The speech — and Emma Bell’s delivery — sells not just the horror of the situation, but the sadness, too. Part of Frozen’s unique beauty is that even with its self-contained thriller premise, it’s a movie about facing up to mistakes and dealing with regret. Nothing like staring at certain death to make one question his or her choices.

After making his mark with the enjoyably over-the-top slasher Hatchet, Green could have easily been pegged as “the Hatchet guy.” He consciously shifted gears to make the psychological drama Spiral, then pivoted hard once again with Frozen. It’s his most carefully constructed film, visually speaking, and features some of his sharpest writing. He humanizes the characters so the audience cares about them in a way they often don’t in horror films; whereas every outlandish, gory kill in the the Hatchet films is met with cheers of approval, we don’t want to see any harm come to Dan, Parker or Lynch. There’s a certain kick in simultaneously getting lost in the characters’ fear while still standing outside of it, enjoying our own awareness of just how well Green is manipulating us.

With the exception of the Hatchet sequels (the third of which he only wrote and produced), Adam Green has never made the same movie twice. But Frozen isn’t great just for the way it stands out in his filmography; it’s great because it’s a terrific horror film in its own right — one that’s willing to consider what real horror feels like. It was the movie that made even those who had dismissed Hatchet stand up and take serious notice of Green as a filmmaker, and he has spent the five years since proving them right.

His latest film, Digging Up the Marrow, is out on VOD and in limited release this month. While not much is known about it yet, the little that Green has spoken about it indicates that it’s yet another departure in a career that’s full of them. It’s been five years since Frozen, but the movie lives on both as a high mark for Adam Green and as tense, scary, expertly crafted gem. No one who has seen it will ever look at a ski lift the same way again.

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on, and, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.