I’ve never been skiing (hold the fake surprise) and after Frozen I’m not sure I’ll ever do it. The ski lift has always been a weird thing to me – this tiny wire ferrying people on metal slabs up the side of a mountain. It seems unsafe. And in this movie it is. It really, really is.

One of the problems with reviewing a movie like this is managing expectations. I think Frozen truly works in that it creates a situation that feels horrifying and then just keeps ratcheting up the dread, filling your stomach with the roiling sense of impending doom. But it’s not a flashy movie, and it’s not a movie that’s going to single-handedly change the genre, or your life. It’s just a small, incredibly well made movie that grabs you and squeezes you and works you over. 

The premise is very basic – so basic that people watching the trailer have second guessed the movie in advance without seeing it. Three friends get trapped on a ski lift at night. In a storm. As the entire ski resort closes down for the week. Stuck forty feet above the snow, the three have to figure out how to not only survive the expected – the weather and each other -but also a pack of hungry wolves. How long has it been since wolves were a threat in a movie? Too long, judging by how awesome it is having them stalk these characters. 

Adam Green has thought through all of the second guesses, and what makes Frozen really work is the way that the characters react to their predicament. They’re realistic, and they’re not doing stupid things just to get some suspense going (he’s also constructed a pretty believable chain of events that strand the three on the lift in the first place). What’s really nice, though, is that Green doesn’t spend too much time with the expected bickering and fighting and nonsense. At a brisk 94 minutes the film takes enough time to establish these characters and make you like them enough that watching their frostbitten skin peel off their faces makes you feel not only grossed out but bad as well.

Of the three leads, Shawn Ashmore feels like the standout. Going from Iceman to an icy man*, Ashmore is able to play the nerdy best friend character in a way that doesn’t just feel fresh, it also feels true. Emma Bell is something of a revelation – I started the film kind of hating her, but by her final scene she had totally won me over. Kevin Zegers also does some good work as the alpha male of the trio, the guy who is trying to solve their insurmountable problem.

Green has turned the film into a namedrop fest, so horror fans should pay attention to pretty much every single character’s name. He even manages to work in a reference to “Spooky” Dan Walker, world-renowned horror lifestyle activist, in a way that’s both clever and groan-inducing.

But Green wants to induce other kinds of groans, the kinds that you let out as your squirming in your seat or waiting for the inevitable terrible event. He makes it work incredibly well, teasing out every moment of suspense and dread that he can. This film feels like a major step forward for Green, simply in filmmaking terms. I hope he’s having fun making Hatchet 2, but it seems to me that he should be spending his time sharpening the knives that he puts to such good use here.

8.5 out of 10

* I am so, so sorry for that pun.