A real horror film . . .
"The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one's desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair." Wallace Stevens
Having just previewed the ersatz horror film, Baghead, I was not prepared for a true horror drama set in the bleak New York/Canada border: Frozen River. It's a social/realist indie that depicts with simple storytelling the harrowing experience of a single mom, Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), smuggling aliens from Canada to the US.
Rarely will anyone see as authentic a presentation of the quiet desperation of the impoverished making it through a Christmas, in this case with three young boys to please. The white Ray with her five and fifteen year old boys and Mohawk Lila (Misty Upham) with her baby join together to make quick money smuggling aliens over a treacherous, borderless, remote, and frozen section of the St. Lawrence River leading to Quebec.
Although director Courtney Hunt makes it and a "High Stakes" bingo parlor a bit too obvious as metaphors for the danger of their crime, nonetheless Hunt knows how to tell an increasingly suspenseful story as much a thriller as it is a sociological commentary on poverty, single motherhood, and tribal mores (Lila: "I usually don't work with whites"). The sequence about an abandoned baby will move even the most hardened audience as it encompasses most of the thematic elements and motifs of the film.
The performances are strong enough ( Watch for Leo's nomination in a few contests?she's that good) to cancel the freshman-like directing touches, the story interesting and bleak enough to overcome any misgivings about plot gymnastics. In fact, the film achieves an allegorical aura partly because of its moralistic tropes.