'Frozen' movie: Disturbing mystery thriller marred by plot holes
The tale of a young fishery worker obsessed with the mysterious disappearance of her older sister, Juliet McKoen's movie Frozen is a curious mélange of psychological drama and metaphysical thriller. The end result is an equally mixed bag.
The story, though conceptually intriguing, lacks coherence, while Scottish actress Shirley Henderson is seriously miscast as the borderline-pathological heroine.
'Frozen' movie plot & plot holes
So, what to do when your sister has disappeared without a trace for more than two years? When police investigations begin winding down, Kath Swarbrick (Shirley Henderson) decides to take matters into her own hands. A strange glitch on the CCTV footage of Kath's sister on the day of her disappearance seems to reveal some bizarre clue about the matter; or is it all the workings of Kath's ever more unbalanced mind?
Inspired by a couple of real-life stories – and possibly owing some key plot elements to Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 mind-trip Blow-Up – director-screenwriter McKoen and co-screenwriter Jayne Steel have concocted a generally engrossing tale of loss and obsession.
Unfortunately, Kath's obsessive search for the truth fails to become the basis for a first-rate suspense thriller largely due to numerous holes in the narrative that require major suspension of disbelief. The most egregious of these takes place near the end, when a crucial – and absurdly contrived twist – takes Kath on a life-threatening path.
The fact that the ultimate dénouement remains effective is a testament both to McKoen's talent as a director and to the intrinsic qualities of the basic storyline. A little more care with the logical setup of the preceding sequences would have turned Frozen into a considerably more affecting experience.
CCTV footage overemphasis
Besides, an undue emphasis on the CCTV footage, which is played ad nauseam throughout the film, is another distraction. The scenes showing the video footage of the missing girl, though important as an indication of Kath's neuroses and of the video's key role in the story, at times feel like a gimmick – whenever in doubt about how to proceed with the plot, show the same video footage one more time.
Instead, McKoen and Steel should have spent more time developing the relationship between Kath and her clergyman counselor (Roshan Seth), and providing us with a better understanding of both the amiable dockland security manager (Richard Armitage), who may have something to hide, and the lowbred Jim (Jamie Sives), the missing woman's former fiancé.
Shirley Henderson: 'Frozen' movie's emotional core
Shirley Henderson, for her part, has to carry Frozen on her own. She valiantly tries to accomplish that task, but is unable to fully convey Kath's sense of loss and despair, resorting instead to poor-little-girl looks and exclamations that, coming from an actress in her late 30s, feel coy rather than endearing.
Now, despite its shortcomings, Frozen has a number of positive elements as well. Besides the story's intriguing setup and the film's surprising and disturbing finale, McKoen's desolate fishing village (shot in and around Morecambe Bay) feels and looks real, while Richard Armitage is a solid screen presence as the friendly but circumspect security manager.
Additionally, Frozen offers a series of starkly beautiful images captured by Philip Robertson's lenses (by way of high-definition digital equipment). These are crucial in enhancing the quasi-otherworldly mood of the story and characters, especially at the film's haunting conclusion.
Dir.: Juliet McKoen.
Scr.: Juliet McKoen and Jayne Steel.
Cast: Shirley Henderson. Roshan Seth. Richard Armitage. Jayne Ashbourne. Les Audley. Nick Bagnall. Jamie Sives.
Best Actress Shirley Henderson
 Update: Others clearly disagreed, as Shirley Henderson went on to win Best Actress honors at both the Marrakech Film Festival and the BAFTA Scotland Awards.
Frozen movie reviewed at the AFI FEST.
AFI FEST website.
Shirley Henderson Frozen movie images: Liminal Films.
“Frozen Movie: Disturbing Metaphysical Thriller Strides Between Madness & Death” last updated in January 2019.