Review: Frozen Out

Written and directed by Hao Zhou, an immigrant artist in Iowa retreats to frozen prairies, forests, and swamps, trying to find a meaningful story and escape from the anxieties of dislocation. Delivered as a film-letter to the protagonist’s little sister in rural China, the film considers his self-exile as well as mental health struggles that were too shameful to address back home.

Film can be a fantastic tool for self-reflection, so long as the filmmaker approaches it in an accessible manner. If you go too far down a road which others can’t relate to, or sympathise with, you lose that necessary connection but Hao Zhou strikes the perfect tone. It has a beautifully thoughtful atmosphere, filling the air with a feel of reminiscing and contemplation. Employing a minimal amount of narration, just enough to add context but little enough to let you fill in the gaps yourself. It moves in a way that easily draws you in, it feels cathartic in the manner that it explores his emotions. Gliding through different possibilities, part is his actual experience but the rest is imagination.

A huge part of that compelling atmosphere is the direction and cinematography, as well as the location choices. The aesthetic is superbly strong right from the start, open landscapes bathed in winter is a flawless choice for an emotional story. The vast spaces and themes of journeys and travel all work wonderfully together. In that sense it holds a complexity but at the same time it’s operating a style which is simple and highly effective. It leaves a great deal of space for a pensive and reflective air, making it inherently sympathetic.

While it does explore the filmmaker’s specific experience, its subjects of mental health, identity and family are easily relatable. Even in its brief runtime of five minutes, it aptly dives into the ideas of making choices that are best for yourself, even if it means fracturing your relationships, then still feeling the pull of those connections and questioning if you could have done things differently. Imagining what you’re missing out on, moving between a number of different emotions that any viewer can sympathise with.

Frozen Out matches a stunning visual with a reflective and emotional atmosphere. It creates a compelling space to explore the filmmaker’s emotions in a way that’s relatable and sympathetic. There’s an almost therapeutic quality to its slow movements and open landscapes. It makes an impressively strong impression in just a few minutes and is soothing to watch.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Screening as part of the ‘Days of Reverie’ selection of short films at Queer East Film Festival on 26 May at Genesis Cinema

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