4 out of 5 stars
DIRECTED BY SCOTT WALKER. STARRING NICOLAS CAGE, JOHN CUSACK, VANESSA HUDGENS, DEAN NORRIS, RADHA MITCHELL, 50 CENT, KEVIN DUNN
Apparently originally made for TV and Video On Demand, this based-on-actual-events thriller got a theatre release and we're certainly glad it did.
When I read that this was a first-time film for writer/director Scott Walker (who is also an actor, by the way) I was quite impressed. This isn't one of your regular action/thrillers with lots of gun battles, chasing down leads, cars being blown up or over-exaggeration to shock and awe. The Frozen Ground is a movie about a serial killer in 1983 Alaska and an Alaskan state trooper who happens to come by this case and is lucky enough to find a survivor who can crack the unsolved mystery wide open.
Alaska PD rescue a battered and handcuffed young prostitute named Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens). Her story about the assailant who raped her and threatened to take her to his cabin in the mountains falls on deaf ears since she's a prostitute and the alleged attacker, Robert Hansen (John Cusack), has an airtight alibi. But other forces are at work and very soon retiring state trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) is assigned to follow up on a lead in the case about several missing girls.
Robert Hansen was a known convict who was convicted of sexual assault and served a bit of jail time but was never charged with any other kidnappings or assaults even though there had been complaints against him, mainly from prostitutes. What The Frozen Ground does is establish the culprit from the start of the film so you don't waste time on detectives chasing down clues and trying to nail suspects.
More time is spent on building up the insidious character of this seemingly normal family man as well as that of the life of Jack Halcombe (the real trooper's name was Glenn Flothe) who must put his own family in jeopardy to protect Cindy and apprehend Hansen. He has to battle his own superiors, the DA and time as Hansen continues on his maniacal killing spree while also running his bakery business and having dinner with his wife and two kids.
Chilling is a word you can use for The Frozen Ground, even more so since it's set in the ice-cold snow of Anchorage, Alaska. The filmmakers have captured the barren, vast stretches of land and mountain with an eerie beauty: Hansen's victims were taken in a light aircraft piloted by him and then unleashed in the wild so that he may hunt them down and kill them there.
Nicolas Cage doesn't go over-the-top for this one. He's subtle and intense. He listens and emotes. I've always loved him for his sheer presence and ability to keep you hooked to a movie. And the addition of his Con-Air co-star, John Cusack, just ratchets up that adrenalin. Cusack plays Hansen with relish. Not that he worships the serial killer of dozens of women, but that he knows this is not a role you get everyday. An average Joe, with a family at the dinner table and a prostitute bound by chains in a basement filled with hunting trophies on the walls. Cusack makes your hairs stand on end to think that your grumpy next-door neighbour or your hunting buddy (we at Minority-Review don't like hunting, go shoot tin cans!) could by a psychopathic murderer.
At the end it is revealed (NOT a spoiler) that the prostitute Cindy Paulson is actually getting to tell her story through this movie. And yes, The Frozen Ground shows us her plight. An 18-year-old runaway who gets into sex for money and erotic dancing and drugs and also manages to run away from a serial killer a couple of times! That part of the film is a tad irritating to watch but then it's not a unique movie.
It's a film where the actors and the director and the script have all put in real emotion and art since they know what you will get to see in the end credits: photos and details of Hansen's many victims. A grizzly and spine chilling reminder that what you have watched is all too real and that this world is full of monsters. They are the men and women, not the aliens, the Frankensteins, the Gollums, but the people who are the most vile and horrible creatures to inhabit this planet. For shame, that they have inherited the earth. I know people who are afraid of all sorts of things, dogs even! After watching this film they should know with solid certainty that it is man who they should truly be afraid of.
PS: THE DISTRIBUTOR HAS IGNORANTLY BLANKED OUT THE WORD 'FUCK' FROM THE FILM AT SEVERAL PLACES IN AN EFFORT TO GET A U/A CENSOR CERTIFICATE BUT THE FROZEN GROUND IS STILL VERY MUCH AN ADULT-THEME FILM.