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  • TBC
  • Drama
  • 2006
  • 90 mins

Frozen

Frozen

Synopsis

Shirley Henderson is haunted by the loss of her sister in this adult chiller set around the shifting waters of Morecambe Bay's estuary

About

Frozen is the most enthralling and intelligent British feature debut since Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher (1999). An intriguing study of unresolved grief, Frozen is serious, mannered, rich in theme, achingly beautiful, with nuanced performances and a strong sense of place. In other words, the film's director-co-writer Juliet McKoen may be a newcomer, but she arrives with a talent that is already fully formed.

It is now two years since Annie Swarbrick disappeared without trace from the coastal town of Fleetwood in North West England. The local police have all but given up their investigation, Annie's husband is set to remarry, and for most of the community, life has moved on - but Annie's sister Kath (Shirley Henderson) has become frozen in a limbo of uncertainty.

After a failed suicide attempt, Kath is referred to the priest Noyen Roy (Roshan Seth), who finds himself torn between his growing love for the confused young woman and his devotion to his invalid wife. At the same time, dockyard CCTV operator Stephen (Richard Armitage) helps Kath resolve the flickering images on a security tape pilfered from the police files, so that she can obsessively watch and rewatch her sister's last known moments. As she retraces Annie's steps, Kath begins to experience strange visions of her sister, and becomes convinced that Annie, though probably dead, is trying to send her a sign.

Frozen is as slippery and indeterminate as Annie's unknown status and Kath's unstable mind. Falling somewhere between a murder mystery and a ghost story, the film marries gritty small town realism to haunting irrationality, and leaves it to viewers to navigate their own way through the resulting fog.

In collaboration with her cinematographer Philip Robertson, McKoen has largely confined herself to genuine location shoots, so that Kath's experiences are grounded in the real fish-packing factories, pubs, cafes and dockyards of Fleetwood; but equally Kath's imagination prefers to wander in less defined spaces, like the 'dead spot' between the two security cameras where her sister evidently disappeared, or the shifting sands and perilous waters of Morecambe Bay's estuary - locales transformed by Robertson's digital manipulations and Tim Barker's hallucinatory sound design into mythic, otherworldly landscapes of desolate beauty.

After small but show-stealing parts in films such as Intermission and Yes, it seemed only a matter of time before Shirley Henderson would win herself a major role, and as Kath, her performance sustains the complexities and contradictions of Frozen. Assertive yet fragile, earthy yet giddy, neither child nor quite adult, Henderson's Kath engages our sympathies even when her behaviour is at its most irresponsible and unhinged. It is a riveting performance, well supported by Roshan Seth's portrayal of crumbling moral authority, and the vague menace of all the other male players.

The film's central concern with loss, madness and the uncanny is not without its influences, and by including an elusive figure in a red raincoat and an obsession with closed circuit footage, McKoen pays respectful homage to two earlier films of similar theme and tone, Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973) and Nicolas Winding Refn's Fear X (2002). Yet with its female protagonist, its English coastline setting, and its fluid lyricism, Frozen reclaims the genre's roots in Victorian Gothic, while updating them to the age of video surveillance (in line with recent trends in Japanese horror). The result is a triumph of eerie bleakness, chilling the bones and haunting the mind.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Jamie Sives, Shirley Henderson, Roshan Seth, Richard Armitage, Ralf Little, Sean Harris, Shireen Shah, Ger Ryan
  • Director: Juliet McKoen
  • Screen Writer: Jayne Steel, Juliet McKoen
  • Producer: Mark Lavender
  • Photographer: Philip Robertson
  • Composer: Guy Michelmore

In a nutshell

Whether it is a murder mystery or a supernatural chiller, Frozen is sublimely haunting - the most enthrallingly adult British feature debut since Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher.

by Anton Bitel

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