Directed by #PailinWedel
Film review by Nathanial Eker
Netflix's new documentary film Hope Frozen is truly amazing. It somehow manages to take some of the most compelling and emotive topics (religion vs science, the sanctity of life debate, and the death of a toddler) and drain any and all captivation. This is a story that should grip us and leave us breathless. Yet after a promising start it devolves into a drab mess, defined by poor pacing and staggeringly inadequate storytelling.
It's difficult to imagine a premise more enticing than that of Hope Frozen. Einz, a two-year-old child from Bangkok is diagnosed with a fatal and incurable cancer. Her scientist father dreams of reviving her through the practice of cryonics, making Einz the youngest person ever to be cryogenically frozen. What follows is a discussion of whether preservation of the body is enough to bring someone back from death and how conservative Buddhist ideals of the soul and tabloid media attention can complicate things.
Writer-director Pailin Wedel poses a number of intriguing questions through the development of this seventy-five minute long documentary. Regrettably, they fail to address almost every one and simultaneously neglect to provide relevant information and context to allow the audience to draw their own conclusions. Bafflingly, the film begins with only the most rudimentary exploration of who Einz and her family are. They are reduced to mere players in a film that begs to pull on your heartstrings and inspire endless moral debate.
More infuriating is the lack of translation, not literally (the clunky and monotone voiceover work 'handles' that), but intellectually. Unfortunately for Wedel, most viewers will not be cryogenic experts and will thus require some level of explanation in lay-person terms.
And those voiceovers. Perhaps the single most effective way to destroy an emotive moment is to have a dry, uninspired western voice over the image of a distraught Thai mother attempting to verbalise her grief. Whoever decided that subtitles were 'too distracting' to include clearly didn't watch the first cut closely enough. This should be one of the most powerful documentaries put to film, but the voiceover trivialises the family's toil, reducing it to the level of a local news broadcast.
Hope Frozen owes almost nothing of its successes to its creators and most of it to the family themselves. Their struggle is real and their anguish obvious, even with the obstructive overlay of western monotony. The fascinating and controversial decisions by Sahatorn and his kin are clearly primed for a documentary that challenges cultural perceptions of death, science, and religion. Indeed, one of the most interesting discussions raised is that of futurism and whether anyone will care for Einz in the future should she ever be restored.
Other big questions like the realities of restoring memory and the existence of a soul are also raised but left mostly unquestioned. The film paradoxically crawls along with trivial scenes that add little, yet it also speeds through each new ethical dilemma like it's a race to the philosophical finish. A documentary of this ilk should be pretty simple in terms of structure, but Wedel makes bizarre editing decisions both temporal and physical at every turn that make for a whiplash-inducing tone.
At the very least, Hope Frozen undeniably encourages discussions around these issues and doesn't put forward a bias, which should be commended. From a technical point of view, the cinematography and music are passable though uninspiring, while the mise-en-scene is fairly well considered, characterised by a whiteness that simultaneously denotes both a suitably clinical aesthetic while also serving as a constant reminder of Einz' lost innocence.
Hope Frozen is not an ill-intended film. At its core it intends to be a time capsule that will even be given to Einz should she ever be revived. It is also admirably respectful of the family; even the voiceovers can be considered a way to broaden exposure of their plight. Sadly, sloppiness reigns supreme and the poor pacing and uninspiring clips chosen ultimately make Hope Frozen a chore to watch. It of course inspires a degree of empathy and debate, but I'd sooner recommend reading up on the topic yourself and watching unedited interviews with the family.
You're unlikely to get much of anything from this.