Although not easy to watch, The Frozen Ground tells a compelling true story while offering first-rate performances and a chilling sense of place seldom seen on screen. Set in Alaska back in the 1980s, the film follows a determined State Trooper in his efforts to capture serial killer Robert Hansen. Much of the credit for the movie’s appeal goes to Nicolas Cage and John Cusack, who do some of their best work to date as the cop and murderer, respectively. But Vanessa Hudgens comes close to stealing the show with her heartbreaking turn as a young woman who escaped the clutches of the killer and helps Cage’s character, Jack Halcombe, catch Hansen.
Cinematographer Patrick Murguia (Brooklyn’s Finest) makes magic with somber tones and angles that enhance the disturbing nature of this story. I’m not usually a fan of dark sequences, but Murguia pulls them off here. The film needs to be dark. After all, Hansen kidnaps, tortures, rapes and kills his victims without showing mercy to any of them. He chooses vulnerable young women and hunts them down like animals. This is not material that should be filmed with much light.
Cage (Bangkok Dangerous) breathes life into his character by projecting Halcombe’s deep concern for Hansen’s latest target, Cindy Paulson (Hudgens). Forced into prostitution at a young age, Cindy is frightened for her life after miraculously getting away from Hansen. And she trusts no one. But Halcombe refuses to give up on her. It’s no surprise when they begin to work together. What is surprising involves how splendid Hudgens (High School Musical franchise) is in this role. She draws us into Cindy’s abysmal world, making us care about this character despite her questionable behavior and dangerous mistakes.
Cusack (The Numbers Station) also impressed me with his excellent portrayal of Hansen. This talented actor changes the look on his face and the way he talks in order to play a man with evil on his mind practically every waking moment. Cusack’s Hansen goes through the motions of sociability -- but we can sense it’s all fake. How many actors could do that so convincingly? That’s why my admiration for Cusack grows with each performance (the exception being Hot Tub Time Machine).
With his first feature, writer/director Scott Walker scores a home run. He understands how important it is to speed things up as well as to slow things down for maximum impact on viewers. The Frozen Ground may not be for everyone – but I think it ranks as one of filmdom’s best movies about a serial killer.
(Released by The Film Arcade and rated “R” for violent content, sexuality, nudity, language and drug use.)
For more information about this film, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.