Image: Frozen movie poster

 Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases or premieres, or occasionally our own inscrutable whims. Because it’s still winter, this week we’re looking back on films set in very cold places.

Every once in a while, a genre film comes along with such a clever conceit that you’re amazed no one thought to do it before. For every umpteenth twist on the old “trapped with a shark” scenario, there’s a movie that manages to concoct a genuinely interesting new variant on the locked-room story. In 2010, that film was Frozen, a bluntly effective chiller that manages to make low temperatures into as monstrous an antagonist as any masked serial killer. And for three years, it enjoyed a reign as the most popular film with that title; writer-director Adam Green probably rues the day Elsa and Anna were drawn into existence at Disney.

The distinct setting of the film is a chairlift at a ski resort, an innocuous enough single location that Green turns into a sickeningly fearsome source of tension. The anxiety is generated by the film’s beyond-simple premise: Three friends (Shawn Ashmore, Emma Bell, and Kevin Zegers) on a daylong skiing/snowboarding trip convince the lift operator to let them take one more trip down the slopes, but when he’s unexpectedly called away, his replacement shuts down the lift with our protagonists suspended high above the ground. With the resort closing down for an extended holiday hiatus, the three college friends face a harrowing dilemma: slowly freeze to death or figure a way out of their predicament. Choices are made. Things do not go well.

Those looking for a film that gets as much drama from its characters as its narrative will be a bit let down, because Frozen’s three leads aren’t given much in the way of personality outside of blunt sketches. It’s a standard case of two dear friends losing touch because one of them falls in love, with Ashmore’s Joe resenting how his buddy’s romance with Parker (Bell) is weakening their bond. The actors do what they can with the material, but it’s a pretty standard soapy conflict and doesn’t contribute much to the drama, until the last act offers some more honest pathos for them. (Still, the actors deserve kudos just for making it through the shoot: Frozen was actually filmed in frigid temperatures on a real lift, the actors stuck dozens of feet in the air for hours on end.)

But Green’s heart—and the soul of his movie—lies in the predicament, not the people. It eventually loses the thread, but over the course of the film’s 90 minutes, there are sequences of pure white-knuckle tension, as the trio attempts various methods of escape. Green is adept at framing and editing these moments for maximal nerve-shredding fun, from dangerous balancing acts to scenes where you’re just waiting for things to go calamitously wrong. Adding a pack of hungry wolves to the mix may be gratuitous, but it’s just another ingredient in the film’s arsenal of techniques for goosing the narrative, and the audience, in baldly button-pushing ways. When watching a character perform the mundane act of removing a mitten manages to create edge-of-your-seat stress, you’ve got an icy landscape worth visiting.

Availability: Frozen is available to rent or purchase through the major digital platforms. It can also be acquired on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, Netflix, or your local video store/library.