Sunday, August 10, 2014

#DoubleFeature - Frozen/The Grey

Time to dig into another couple of survival films!

Does the idea of being trapped in a snowstorm, awaiting to be eaten alive by wolves, sounds fun to you? Well, apparently it did for both these directors...

More Survival Films reviewed by yours truly!

Time for yet another DoubleFeature!

Today, let's check out two 2010/11-ysh "survival film" features, both taking place in a cold snowy environment. 

"Survival films" are what I like to call these sort of intense thrillers following the survival of a limited cast of characters during the course of a story.

Usually one single protagonist, unnamed, trapped for the course of the entire movie in a single setting. In these sort of films the tale is often told in "real time".

These movies tend to be pretty intense thematically rather than heavy in dialogues. 

When it all comes down to it, it's generally the tale of a (wo)man being striped from all of our technology, versus the raw intensity of nature. Think Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away, one of the better examples of the genre, the big budget blockbuster that brought this genre to the front scene (not the first one though). It all comes down to the original survivalist tale of Robinson Crusoe.

This is as far as possible from all these big Hollywood disaster films (aka "disaster porn"), which despite actually touching some similar themes such as coming down to our mortality face to nature, those always go way overboard, all over the place, with way too many action sequences taking over any real connection to the main character(s), huge ensemble casts, etc. (I'm not saying one is better than the other, just saying how different from each other those two genres are)

A survival movie is usually much more grounded in reality and therefore as realistic as possible. Characters will suffer through damage (both physically and emotionally through the film). The backstory or any sort of explanation is really secondary, with our protagonist stripped to its more basic characterization. 

Trying to simply defy nature and survive nature...

Frozen and The Grey were two pretty similar concepts on the paper, but executed both in completely different directions.

While Frozen ended up as a pretty brutal and realistic horror film, The Grey took a more odyssey-like ambitious nature, closer to an adventure film with hints of human drama.

Let's start with the first one...

Movie: Frozen also known as Adam Green's Frozen and Frozen (2010) as well

Directed by Adam Green 
Release date 2010
Genre Thriller/Drama/Horror/Survival film
Country USA

This thriller was directed by cult horror newcomer and creator of the Hatchet series Adam Green

Frozen is a 2010 horror/survival film following a couple of friends stranded in a ski chair lift as the resort is closed for the rest of the week.

The movie was originally first presented at the Sundance Film Festival, and was distributed by Anchor Bay Films

The "story" begins with these two childhood buddies and the girlfriend of the second one at a small ski resort in New England for the weekend. At first we see them debating the worst possible ways to die - as to foreshadow some later events.

They decide to take one final trip as the station is about to close (they also have some issues regarding the current state of their friendship, and are not ready to leave this weekend behind and go back to "normal life").

As a storm is catching on, the dudes working there decide it's time to close the resort without some proper final checks... and so our characters get trapped there in mid-air, the resort being usually closed down for the rest of the week, trapped there by those employees eager to leave their job (as to actually have the events of the film possibly happen, duh!). 

People remained in this one lift! Our trio is forced to wait for some help to notice them... They fail to do so during the storm and end up having to survive the night...

But time passes and nobody comes for them. They have to make it off to the ground somehow. Trapped up there, the girl slowly develops frostbite over her face. They have to try something or everybody dies.

 One of them decides to take the risk and jump down from that chair high above the ground. He ends up violently fracturing his leg (and gruesomely so). He breaks both his legs, attracting some wolves apparently entering the closed ski resort during the week. 

His death is brutal. Eaten alive...

The next day arrives. There's only one option left, his buddy left behind decides to reach the ground by traversing the cable onto the next support. His gloves were shredded to tears.

But will those two be able to make it out of it alive!?  

Frozen stars Shawn Ashmore (X-Men's Iceman), Kevin Zegers and Emma Bell in her debut role. Our young actors did a fantastic job, since the entire movie revolves around those three characters. 

Adam Green himself as a small role, and even the great Kane Hodder appears on screen as well besides just coordinating the stunts.

Compared to Green's earlier Hatchet films, Frozen has a much more minimalistic approach. Adam Green is such a great inventive young director.  

The film has so much tension and some pretty gory scenes as well! It's a chilling thriller - pun intended.

The film has a great realism to it, as we witness our survivors coming up with ways to get off the ground. Sure, most of their decisions end up dumb, but we do get to follow their thought process, and the way they reach those steps is realistic enough. Have you always wondered if you could make it off those ski chairs by jumping that height? 

The movie focuses on the characters first and foremost. It emphasizes the realism of that situation rather than trying to say anything really or explore some strange thematics. There's barely any "plot" in the traditional sense of the term, but it's pretty common with these so-called survival films. It revolves around the survival of these 3 characters. With genuine dialogues. 

Sure, you can nitpick a lot of points and details - not every ski stations collect these kind of cable cars when they close, specially these much simpler ones used in this film (the station at the location where it was filmed actually did not collect them, at least before the filming of Frozen).

It's a great movie. Having these wolves as "the enemy" relates to our deepest primitive fears. Sure, that's maybe where the movie stretches its realism at most. They're usually not particularly "evil" animals, but I doubt they would refuse a free meal when they see one (dude with his broken legs, sitting there in the snow).

Frozen is a pretty well made film, with a great sense of suspense and scary at times. Having these modern kids trapped up there, facing the wilderness and cold temperature. The threat feels real because under these particular occurrences it's something that could happen. Nature and the elements are the real danger here.

The movie is well directed. It's not as outright gory and brutal as Adam Green's past films, letting the audience fill in the blanks here and there with their imagination. But it works just as creepy. We only get several splashes of blood as the wolves attack, but it works great!

The music was brilliantly composed by Andy Garfield. Great subtle tense music, appropriately fitted for the film.

Overall: Frozen is a pretty captivating dense realistic survival film.

It's also such a simple but great pitch! Perfectly executed on screen. Sure, it's easy to nitpick, but you have to admit it's the perfect scenario this sort of survival films, done on a small budget which works out for the film.

They found the perfect real location, a single chair in a remote station. The tension comes from the amount of pain our characters go through. There's no green screens, all is actually done in front of the camera with practical effects as much as possible. 

And it's only a slow death that is awaiting our protagonists.

It's a pretty smart film visually. 

It also was nominated for some Saturn Awards, though it lost to Drag Me to Hell.   

I give it:
2.5 / 3 Films!

Movie: The Grey 
Directed by Joe Carnahan 
Release date 2011
Genre Thriller/Adventure/Survival film
Country USA

Based on the short story "Ghost Walker" written by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers who also co-wrote the screenplay with director and producer Joe Carnahan, The Grey was also produced by Ridley Scott no less! It was distributed by Universal Studios in 2011.

The story here follows a bunch of workers at an oil station in Alaska who survive a plane crash. A man who used to kill wolves for a living ends up having to quickly become their de facto-leader. They will only be able to make it out of this cold weather alive with their wits to survive from a dangerous pack of wild gray wolves

The movie stars Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo and Dermot Mulroney amongst others.

Our story begins with this man named Ottway (Liam Neeson). He protects oil drilling teams from attacks of wild wolves that threaten their job as a living. After mortally wounding a wolf instead of killing on what was to be his last day at this job, tired of this job with no purpose, Ottway planned to commit suicide and kill himself for good... He writes a letter to his wife explaining this.. before embarking on another mission. 

But something happens.

The plane crashes in the middle of a blizzard. He awakes only to find out most people aboard the plane are now dead. Not everybody died in the crash, a small group of survivors is formed. About seven remaining people survived the crash. 

They build a fire. The corpses are attacked by a gray wolf. Turns out they're in the middle of their territory! They have to leave the crash area, run away as far as possible from these wild predators. The wolves are attacking them to defend their den. 

They leave the crash site for the nearby forest. Along the way they're picked off one by one. The pack leader is apparently testing them. Not killing the humans to eat them but to get them off the territory.

The wolves continue to kill them one by one, as one of the members of the group, an ex-con, loses it slowly.

Finally it all comes down to Liam Neeson's character left only, he will have to fight the wolf leader mano a mano. But he won't be going at it bare kunckles, Ottway ties some broken miniature bottles of whiskey to his gloves! Time to punch a meaning for his life through that wolf!

The Grey is a great unique and different tale of survival.

Since there are so many characters in this film, you know they're going to be killed one by one throughout the film. Even so they get the time to get fleshed out enough, including a nice scene of Neeson's character going through pictures of the dead near the end of the film.

But let's be honest here, all the "wolf" aspect of the film is kinda silly and ridiculous, most of the realistic material goes to its human survivors mainly.  

Like Frozen, the wolves attack people to murder them savagely. Although it felt kind of random in the above Frozen, the attacks are given an explanation here since they're in the wolves' territory crazy. The animals are apparently led by a crazy Alpha-wolf here (and it seems there's also an Omega-wolf as well, or something, I have no idea if such a thing exist in real life or if that was improvised for the purpose of the film though).

The digital wolves on camera have great presence, to a point! But they also looked kind of cheesy and almost stupid at times. The film here depicts a full on complex hierarchy, with wolves intelligent enough to cleverly plan their attack on these humans, go over a cliff to await them on the other side, etc.

Leeson's character was imagined in a way to be the voice of the plot here, explaining the action of the wolves every time. 

The film has a nice spiritual tone to it, even not a big fan of this, I liked that well enough here.

Sure, some environmentalists and animal activists might not like the way the wolves are portrayed on screen in The Grey, so negatively, but this is a tale of survival first. And unlike Frozen's trained real pet wolves used in the filming, here it's all CGi wolves. So no real harm done.

The CGi wolves are kind of a mixed bag. On one hand they do look great in most of the elusive shots or closer big shots. But they were also kinda ridiculous and almost looked like huge werewolves at times...

The film is also sort of predictable.

The movie seems to abruptly end here... but wait for the stinger at the end of the credits! Which... doesn't explain much (other than being a throwback to the beginning of the film, but notice how Neeson appears to be on top though!).

Finally The Grey features a fantastic score composed by the talented Marc Streitenfeld, it features some pretty iconic themes and memorable cues. A great score all around.

Overall: The Grey is a pretty good captivating movie.

It's a really impressive film. It easily features some of Liam Neeson's best acting in my eyes.

Sure, man-eating wolves are very rare to non-existent in real life, but that doesn't detract from the actual film. It still is a pretty good flick through and though. 

Fairly engaging, with a great atmosphere and an overwhelming sense of nature getting the better of those men. It's a unique experience!

The film did fairly well at time and got a great reception, even if nowadays it is mostly received by an universally harsh reaction from the audience since then.

I give it:
2 / 3 Films!

And that is it for this new DoubleFeature!

Both films are pretty similar in their basic concept. But they are completely different in their actual execution.

Both revolve around man vs. nature at its most basic aspect. Emphasizing the triumph of these human protagonist over the natural obstacle presented in these films.

In this case, the harsh environment (the cold weather) and the wild (the wolves).

And in the end very few make it out alive thanks to the collaborative effort of their respective group.

I'd say both are Recommended films, well worth a look!

Frozen is probably the better all around film despite its more oppressive almost horror-like tone./The Grey has perhaps the better characters and atmosphere but also some questionable scenes and use of CGi.

Two interesting almost complementary films. Perfect for yet another DoubleFeature!

That's all for this time's DoubleFeature!

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