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Eric’s Review: Freeze (2022 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival)


ATMOSfx! Woo!

★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Directed by Charlie Steeds

Charlie Steeds is the young “house” director for Dark Temple Motion Pictures, having directed every one of their seven features, from Escape from Cannibal Farm (2016) to Winterskin (2017), to The Barge People (2018). Dark Temple Motion Pictures reminds me of Empire Video from the 1980s. Think of Steeds as Dark Temple’s Stuart Gordon. Their films range the full spectrum of horror, from ghost stories, KKK cults, Vampires, and the aforementioned Cannibals. This is a film studio looking for a hit that will give it the Re-Animator or Toxic Avenger that can carry the banner for the company.

They may have found it with Freeze. Is it great? no. Is it fun? Yes. And for a small studio, the production values are a big upgrade from what they have been known for. Plus, some pretty good scene-chewing acting performances to boot.

It’s inexpensive filmmaking 101. Develop a stable of reliable and willing actors, come up with a simple story that you can build a theme around, and then go for it. I reviewed The Barge People a couple of years ago, hoping for a good bloody Hills Have Eyes style romp, but despite the lurid promotional campaign, despite a lurid trailer, the movie felt like it had to pull its punches. It lacked gravity.

Fast forward three years and Steed’s latest picture got its world premiere at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, and rightly so. It featured Deep Ones, and a ship called the Innsmouth, and was searching for another lost vessel named The Eibon. Those of you who know your Lovecraftian Lore will get the references. This is distilled from the stories The Shadow Over Innsmouth and At the Mountains of Madness.

I was rather amazed, to be honest. This felt like a big step up from what I had experienced from Dark Temple before.

Rory Wilton and David Lenik in Freeze (2022)

The sailors aboard the HMS Innsmouth have been sent north, to rescue the HMS Eibon, lost in its expedition to the North Pole. Captain Mortimer (Rory Wilton) is hell-bent to find his lost friend, Captain Streiner (Tim Cartwright). Mortimer’s first mate McCullough (Johnny Vivash) warns the captain of the treacherous waters ahead, but the young lieutenant Roth (David Lenik) the arrogant son of the Innsmouth’s shipwright convinces the captain to push forward and that the ship could take it.

But, no, the ship couldn’t take it.

The ship hits a rocky reef and is invaded by mysterious ichthyoid creatures (Deep Ones, for those of you familiar with Lovecraftian Lore) that kill off most of the Innsmouth’s crew. The panicking survivors flee onto the arctic ice, including Mortimer, McCullough, Roth, a ruffian crewman Spriggs (Ricardo Freitas), the idealistic young crewman Redgrave (Jake Watkins), and (GASP!) a Stowaway young woman Carmen (Beatrice Barrilà) who is looking for her brother, a junior officer on the Eibon.

The survivors struggle towards the shelter of the nearby mountains, where they spot a cavern system. The caverns are, of course, home to the Deep Ones, and also the surviving and stark raving-mad Captain Streiner. The crew is then forced to determine if they do the honorable, and very British, noble sacrifice to prevent the creatures from reaching Mainland Europe, or to save their own skins and try and free the ship and sail for free waters.

It’s a fairly solid story. The plot makes sense if a bit familiar, and the character motivations are clearly presented. Are there flaws? Oh yes, there are some big Great Old One-sized logical doozies, no doubt. A 19th Century British Man-O-War had hundreds of sailors on board, and are armed to the teeth. The ship seemed to have a crew of about… twelve. Small studio, a small cast. I get it. But that felt blatantly off. Also, the North Pole is over an ocean. There are no mountains. Really, this should have been Antarctica, which also would have been thematically appropriate, as At the Mountains of Madness takes place there… and so did many British exploration attempts.

The survivors head to the mountains for shelter in Freeze (2022)

The acting ranges from pretty terrific to passable. Both Wilton and Cartwright dominate their time on-screen time with powerful charisma. Cartwright makes for a wonderfully over-the-top villain. Barrila, who is not always the easiest to understand in her thick Italian accent, is great fun as a bit of an anachronistic female warrior. Her actions elicited cheers from the audience when she broke into hero mode. The rest of the cast has their moments as well, but by-in-large the remaining characters are a bit one-note.

The Deep One costumes are GREAT. They are men in fish suits, but they look good and creepy. In the post-premiere Q&A, Steeds admitted that he really wanted to do a Creature From the Black Lagoon homage, and Dark Temple said, “As long as you do it in the snow and ice.” And this is how the movie came to be. The downside to the great costumes is that you see them A LOT, and early. Probably a bit too early. Unlike CGI monsters, they are relatively limited by what a dude in a suit can do. But really, check out the cover image. Awesome.

The absolute most impressive part of the film is that for a little budget, they had the authentic locations of a real warship to film on, a true glacier (The same Norweigian landscape that The Empire Strikes Back used for Hoth… I KNEW that looked familiar!) and an honest-to-goodness cavern system. No cardboard sound stages. No green screens. Real sets. You could see the breath on the actors. The real crunch of snow. Very impressive for a little film. The naval costumes are quite authentic looking, if also a bit on the brand-new side.

This movie delivered some big cheers at the right time (and a few chuckles at the movie’s expense) but more often than not, the movie entertained. This deserves to be a minor hit for Steeds. He’s earned his stripes in the genre. Maybe more than Stuart Gordon, he might be more like William Girdler, a young director who did low-budget schlock for years while honing his craft, and then got a big break with Grizzly, which while it didn’t set the world on fire, was a really solid monster flick, and showed what an ambitious genre director could do with a bigger budget.

The movie is currently unrated, but would probably earn an R rating, for violence and a little bit of gore, but it feels safe enough for most teens as it isn’t really gory. The monsters are probably too spooky for little kids though.

I had a strange pride in watching this world premiere at HPLFF. This is my local Horror Film Festival, showing off the high water mark for the little British Genre film company, and if things go just right, both might get some recognition for this.

If you enjoy Freeze, you will likely really enjoy the big-budget production by AMC of Dan Simmon’s great novel The Terror. To compare the two productions isn’t exactly fair, as the TV show had tens of millions of dollars behind it (plus Jared Harris and Ciarán Hinds). You also may want to check out the icy fish people of Cold Skin a solid tale of isolation, monsters, and madness.

Freeze (2022)
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