Dir. Charlie Steeds (2022)
During a rescue mission to the North Pole, a captain finds himself and his men under assault by bizarre fish creatures. They must fight to survive, and escape, in the desolate arctic wasteland.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
It takes a lot of guts to do an indie period piece, a film focused on a time period that requires an entirely different aesthetic, usually-expensive wardrobe, and often-opulent set decoration. Yet, that’s exactly what director Charlie Steeds decides to do with Freeze, a creature feature about a group of maritime rescuers who appear to be straight from the seafaring British Empire who happen to come across icy fish creatures who want to eat them. Somehow, he also makes it all work, crafting a movie that feels as much drama as horror, like a BBC show about Horatio Nelson’s scariest adventure. With a metric fuckton of Lovecraftian inspiration and some Corman-esque creature design, Freeze has high aspirations to transcend the standard monster movie into something that feels like it has a much bigger budget than it does. It’s slow-moving at times, and requires a decent fondness for Lovecraft to truly enjoy, but it’s a well-crafted tale about the mountains of madness and the creatures therein.
The creatures are corny and phenomenal, with a huge Humanoids from the Deep vibe that is perfect for fans of the old New World Pictures movies from the 80’s but also are pretty scary-looking in their closeups and make some creepy sounds that fit the vibe of the film perfectly. The acting, however, is a notch above those cheesefests, each actor giving it their all and doing a fantastic job with their roles. Rory Wilton, who plays Captain Mortimer, the leader of the doomed expedition, is notably excellent, and while all of the performances are very good, his stands out as perhaps the best. The plot is a bit contrived at times, but the utter seriousness with which it progresses makes the movie more watchable from a modern horror perspective than most of its thematic predecessors. Once the crew makes their way to the mountain, seeking shelter from the terror within their ship, things begin to go off the rails, mixing psychological horror with monster movie mayhem. While the plot slows down considerably before the finale, it’s worth sticking out for the Lovecraft reference if nothing else.
I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Steeds and Dark Temple Motion Pictures, who have produced a plethora of recent horror movies (including The Barge People, a Shudder exclusive) utilizing the same cast and crew throughout. However, after having watched a few bits and pieces of their previous films, they are clearly starting to progress as a company and Steeds is getting better as a director. There are some pitfalls of indie cinema that can be hard to overcome, and working with a low budget (comparatively) usually comes with shitty acting and lackluster productions at best. Freeze is one of the better efforts at making a movie that looks much more expensive than it is, delivering practical effects and some truly excellent monsters to recapture the joys of nostalgia for our childhoods. If you grew up on New World or Empire Pictures like I did, this one will be right up your alley.
Indie horror typically fits into one of several different tiers, from the ultra-low-budget films usually seeking to surprise with gore or comedy to the Richard Linklater or Kevin Smith films that clearly have vision beyond their budget and scope. While Freeze certainly doesn’t attain those heights, it’s several notches above the cheap shit that you find on Tubi that were slapped together with 50 bucks and some string. There’s a genuine love for the genre that comes across easily with this film, and the same way Smith gave movie fans a feeling that his films were by-the-people-and-for-the-people, Charlie Steeds is delivering the same feeling for fans of 80’s Full Moon. Freeze feels like his Castle Freak, a (admittedly less bloody) movie that is way better than it has any right to be and elevates what Dark Temple has done thus far. If their future efforts are as successful as this one, Steeds and DT will be names to look out for in the future.
Who this movie is for: Lovecraft fans, British horror lovers, Pescatarians
Bottom line: The acting is great and the creatures are delightful, giving Freeze an 80’s Lovecraftian flair that is not to be missed by anyone who enjoys a bit of monster madness. The practical effects are excellent, and Steeds is coming into his own as a great indie horror filmmaker. Freeze is watchable, creepy, and with some excellent scenes of pandemonium, delivering a unique horror period piece that feels very much at home in a Lovecraft filmography. Check it out if you get the chance, you might be pleasantly surprised