Dir: Juliet McKoen.UK-Den. 2004. 90mins

Wintry and melancholic, writer-director Juliet McKoen'sdebut feature is a mood piece, exploring loss and obsession. Despite somestarkly beautiful imagery, it's a strangely cumbersome affair which soon beginsto sink under the weight of its own symbolism.

McKoen has an eye for apoetic shot but is dragged down by her own heavily loaded screenplay whichcombines murder mystery, dream sequences, flashbacks, mythic and religiousreferences, and even elements of a psychiatric case study.

Co-produced by Lars VonTrier's Zentropa and sold internationally by Trust, Frozen sharescertain thematic parallels with Breaking The Waves (this too is a storyabout a young martyr-like woman coping in the aftermath of a personal tragedy)but lacks the intensity of Von Trier's celebrated 1996 feature.

It also marks the firstoccasion on which estimable Scottish actress Shirley Henderson (who hasexcelled in films from Topsy-Turvy to Wilbur Wants To Kill Himselfand Once Upon A Time In The Midlands) has played a major leading role.

Though she has some strongmoments as Kath, her performance is a little mannered and tentative. Sheoverdoes the faux-naif side of her character when a tougher interpretationmight have worked better. Nor does Roshan Seth (seen in Monsoon Wedding)fare much better as the priest/analyst Noyen Roy to whom Henderson turns in hergrief.

While the involvement ofZentropa might pique the curiosity of a few Scandinavian distributors, Frozen is unlikely to thaw the hearts ofmany cinemagoers elsewhere.

The setting is a seasidetown in the north of England. Kath, who works in the local fish factory, isstill struggling to come to terms with the mysterious disappearance of herbeloved sister Annie two years before. No body was discovered. She clings tothe hope that Annie may not be dead and is desperate to discover what reallyhappened to her. It seems that some grainy CCTV footage of Annie down by thedocks on the last day she was seen may solve the riddle.

There is a sense of Chineseboxes about the storytelling in Frozen. Noyen Roy is the narrator, and,just as Kath is obsessed with Annie, he is obsessed with her and his grief andlonging mirror Kath's. Meanwhile, as she begins to identify with her missingsister to an unhealthy degree, so itbecomes apparent that she risks sharing her sister's fate.

McKoen (an editor andaward-winning short and experimental film-maker before her transition tofeatures) shot on digital, alternating between a range of formats, high-def, DVCam, Mini-DV and Super VHS among them. She uses her seaside locations inatmospheric, often ingenious fashion, throwing in various dream-like sequencesof Kath alone on a vast, empty beach, or imagining that she has spotted hersister being rowed away on a boat.

The emphasis on theprotagonists' inner emotional lives and the foregrounding of fate andco-incidence rekindle memories of Kieslowski's Double Life Of Veronique.The references to the ferry keeper taking the dead to the underworld may beportentous, but they're in keeping with the poetic storytelling style.

In its stylised moments, thefilm is at its most effective. It's with the characterisation and day to dayscenes that McKoen comes unstuck as we're subjected to some leaden badinage inthe local pub. Kath's interactions with her work colleagues, among themred-bearded loon Hurricane Frank (Sean Harris), who tries to rape her, and herconfidante Elsie (Ger Ryan), are clumsily handled. The meditations on love and loss are frequently undermined bybanal dialogue and awkward framing; that the morbidity and final reel lurchesinto serial killer territory don't help either.

It would probably take a NicRoeg in his prime to do justice to a story which tugs in so many differentdirections and which combines both metaphysical and thriller elements. McKoen'seye for a lyrical shot in not in doubt, but she seems less comfortable dealingwith the demands of a feature-length narrative in which characterisation andperformance are as important as striking imagery. The result is a film which isfitfully impressive but also as chilly and forbidding as its title mightsuggest.

Prod cos: Liminal Films Prod, RS Prods, Shoreline Films,Freedonia Films
Int'l sales:
Trust Film
Mark Lavender
Juliet McKoen, withadditional writing by Jayne Steel
Cine: Philip Robertson
Paul Endacott
Guy Michelmore
Main cast:
Shirley Henderson,Roshan Seth, Ralf Little, Ger Ryan, Sean Harris, Jamie Sives