I’m a huge fan of serial killer movies – falls under the crime genre, which I love. Anytime one is coming out, it’s instantly on my radar. Most aren’t as exceptional as Se7en, or some of my other favorites. A lot are heavily clichéd, but I enjoy them all for the most part. The stories draw me in. It’s not too common when one leaves a large enough impact on me to go out and buy it, or simply remember it after a weak. It’s been a while since another good serial killer movie came out worth mentioning. Seen nothing but bad ones recently. I wasn’t approaching The Frozen Ground with much excitement. It surprised me, however. It’s nothing amazing, but it was well made. Without comparing in terms of quality, The Frozen Ground is sort of like Zodiac meets Insomnia.
In 1983, young woman are constantly disappearing from the Anchorage, Alaska, area. Sgt. Jack Holcombe (Nicolas Cage) is going to be transferred soon, when another body turns up. At the same time, prostitute/stripper Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) escapes the clutches of a potential rapist/murderer, Robert Hanson (John Cusack), and has reported this to the police. Holcombe truly believes Hanson has been involved in many of these cases, but he must deal with a police department that refuses to issue warrants unless a certain amount of evidence justifies to search the home of a first-class citizen. Cindy is a key witness. Any time she goes public, though, her life is in danger. There’s only so much time before Hanson strikes again and discards the key pieces of evidence.
The plot was chilling and compelling. Its running time is almost two hours, but it never dragged. Everything is by the numbers, but the story had pacing and structure going for it. You know who the killer is early on. That decision worked out in this particular case. Watching both sides (the killer and the police) the whole time built tension. It develops slow, putting the pieces in place. The latter half does increase in pace, providing plenty of tense scenes. Even though you know the killer will eventually be caught, I was engaged the whole time. The climax left me satisfied – great ending. Dialog kept it grounded, and never had any cheesy moments.
The only real negative part, is things could have been shaken up. Some fictional elements would have benefited the movie. Not tons, but at least a little to not be as predictable; take Argo for example. Even though you can guess what’s going to happen, the execution was solid. I can forgive that wholeheartedly, however, since they wanted to stay true to this tragic story. The Frozen Ground is presented in a highly realistic manner. The scenes with the killer were effectively blood-chilling without the heavy use of gore. Robert Hanson isn’t delved into and overly analyzed like other serial killers have in previous movies. He is presented in a basic way, but was real creepy. Holcombe isn’t a unique protagonist. He’s given the bare minimum. Both central characters are boosted by the actors.
Nicholas Cage has proven he is a great actor, but he goes through large stretches of being in bad movies. Every now and then he’ll brake that streak coming out in something good, that he’s good in as well. This was a welcome return for Cage. Instead of getting “crazy Cage,” (that can work, but he has been doing it far too long, only remember it working somewhat recently in Kick-Ass) we get a much more subtle performance from him. I love to see him in roles like this. John Cusack’s prime is defiantly behind him. Easily gives his best performance in a long while. Cusack is soft spoken, while being repellent. Comedic material fits best, but he does play an excellent creepy guy. I’ve never been a fan of Vanessa Hudgens. She seems to try really hard to shed her old Disney image. This is her first “bad girl” performance that worked. Held her own.
Scott Walker does a fine job of capturing the ghostly silences of the frozen north. The Alaskan nature is spellbinding, showing the sheer vastness and beauty of the landscape. Cinematography was outstanding. This hasn’t received that much press and a wide distribution. The Frozen Ground is better than a straight to DVD movie or a TV episode of Law & Order. It’s an intense, yet subtle thriller that’s extremely atmospheric. The story is the sole of the movie. It is powerful, hard to watch in several spots. I loved how the cat and mouse approach was used with smarts, instead of guns. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but worth a watch; especially if you like film’s similar to it.