In 2008 I wrote “Grotesquerie and Grief: Abortion in Horror Media,” which looked at two common ways abortion appears in horror movies, comics, and prose. Last night I watched 2012’s “The Frozen” (trailer here) and while the movie is a mess, it’s a fascinating attempt to tell a different kind of story. Some spoilers below the cut.
“The Frozen” has several things going for it. (Full disclosure: I’ve met the director/lead actor, and in fact only know about the movie because of him.) It’s a terrific example of snowbound horror. It’s just filled with glorious shots of snow smoking off the pines, blood-red branches over white slopes, sparks flying upward from the campfire. And the lead actress, Brit Morgan, has a terrific face: raw, with a strong jaw, a tough face that makes you want to know her backstory. At the start of the movie she comes across as much bigger and deeper than her slight, somewhat passive-aggressive boyfriend.
From the first couple of minutes we know she’s pregnant and she doesn’t want to be. Nonetheless she goes on a scheduled camping trip into the deep woods with her city-slicker boyfriend, who doesn’t know she’s pregnant. Their snowmobile crashes, at which point several different kinds of horror movie seem to begin.
This was one of my problems with The Frozen: It flirts with survival horror, ghost horror, is-she-crazy horror, and crazy killer in the woods horror, before finishing as Christian allegory. This is just too many things.
Lots of them would work really well to tell a story of a woman’s fraught, changing relationship with her unborn child. Ghost horror and is-she-crazy horror have both tackled that subject before. Abortion-haunted survival horror is a new one for me, and from my conversation with the director I suspect it was a big part of his basic concept for the film.
It’s the part which works best, by far. The unborn child becomes a kind of “third companion,” the phantom or spiritual presence which people in extreme situations sometimes report walked alongside them. Survival horror is inherently about trying to find a way for life to win out in the most desperate situations, life at great cost: It’s perfect for abortion horror. There are probably too many shots (and too early) of Emma touching or cradling her abdomen, but the underlying idea here is very strong and believable. Many of the character notes relating to the pregnancy are handled well, like Emma’s palpable feeling of abandonment when her boyfriend tells her, “It’s your decision.”
But because there’s so much else going on, the movie starts to seem like just one thing after another. The music is depressingly rote–the jump scares and sentimental moments get truly awful musical underlining–and the script has a tendency to go too far on sentiment. You can get away with a lot when your characters are facing a lonely death, but you can’t get away with as much heartstring-tugging as this movie tries.
Morgan’s Emma starts out rough and strong (although frequently petulant), and, fascinatingly, her ordeal seems to soften her and make her more open to the joy of tiny victories. She seems to earn a sense of her own competence, and also a gentleness she didn’t have before. This is a mixed blessing for the viewer, since her sweetened affect can make it seem like she isn’t really scared or disintegrating. (Her little “ooh!” when she thinks the killer has found her in the cabin is just totally out of place.)
And we never do learn nearly enough about these two kids. They’re generic white horror couple. I specifically wanted to know more about their financial situation: Are they spoiled rich kids? Are they in different places financially? They have all this fancy camping gear–or he has it–and of course you wonder if money plays a role in Emma’s emotions about being pregnant.
Finally, I’ve defended allegory before and I wish we saw more of it, but in my opinion the final twist into theology gets treacly when it should probably remain creepy. (Why doesn’t Emma ask where her baby’s father is, for example?) Even here, though, I should note that there’s a lovely and theologically rich callback to an earlier shot.
“The Frozen” is trying to tell a couple new stories in a genre which can–cf. “Cabin in the Woods”–feel over-familiar. You can rent it for five bucks on iTunes. I’m very excited to see more work from Seth David Mitchell, although I hope his next project is more focused.