Directed and Written by Scott Walker
In many ways, serial killer films are like prostitutes. This is an ironic statement since prostitutes are the number one choice of serial killers. However, it is true for several reasons. One being that like prostitutes serial killer films are a dime a dozen; two being that the quality varies-you may get a serial killer film equivalent to dog shit akin to Uli Lommel and any of his low budget knock-offs; or you get lucky and experience a film like the brilliant Citizen X which detailed the hunt for the Russian murderer Andrei Chikatilo. The Frozen Ground, the feature writing and directorial debut from New Zealand native Scott Walker, joins the upper echelon of serial killer films. Although somewhat embellished (Nicolas Cage’s character Jack Halcombe is based on the real life Alaska State Trooper Detective Glenn Flothe), it manages to tell the story of serial murderer and rapist Robert Hansen in a somewhat linear (packing several years into a two hour time frame) and impassioned film.
Robert Hansen was the serial killer who raped, hunted and murdered at least 17 women in and around Anchorage, Alaska in the years between 1971 and 1983. It is also believed that he raped and tortured at least another 30 women before his capture in 1983. Now 75, he is serving a sentence of 461 years plus life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. The Frozen Ground gives an account of Hansen and his crimes and capture in a style that can best be described as ‘no bullshit’ beginning with the escape of would-be victim Cindy Paulson and herself and Sergeant Detective Jack Halcombe’s (Glenn Flothe’s) unending desire to bring Hansen to justice. Like a lot of serial killer films the side of good is met with adversity from the side of evil-Hansen, despite earlier and similar legal trouble is an upstanding citizen with a wife and children. On the other hand, the first account of Hansen in the film is given by a prostitute-Paulson-an unlikely and unreliable source of honesty.
The Frozen Ground was a source of great anger for me and not at all because of the quality of the film. It’s an anger that I cannot even begin to explain; all I know is that it grew inside of me and because my wife was sleeping and had to awaken early for work that I could not shout or cause commotion but could only shake my fists as tears of rage rolled down my cheeks.
The Frozen Ground plainly showcases the talents of its three leads. Often ridiculed for his over the top performances, Nicolas Cage is subdued and brilliant as Jack Halcombe. As for John Cusack, I always said that I had trouble separating the younger, goofier Cusack from his mature roles and here that separation is complete. Cusack plays Hansen with a charm that, while not slimy, is serpentine in its portrayal. However, it is neither Cage nor Cusack who gives the definitive performance in the film. Often maligned as a child of Disney and as someone who made her way based upon her looks, Vanessa Hudgens earns my respect with this film. Yes, there are moments where her performance seems contrived and cliché; Hudgens rises above that to bring a much needed vulnerability to her character. Say what you will about her past roles; she grows up in The Frozen Ground and it shows in every scene.