What I Watched Last Night: The Frozen Ground (2013)

Director: Scott Walker

Cast:  Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, John Cusack, Dean Norris

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Scott Walker’s first directorial effort, The Frozen Ground, is ‘based on actual events’. What are these actual events? Here’s the gist: In 1983, Anchorage family man Robert Hanson was accused of abduction and rape by a prostitute named Cindy Paulson. After a little digging, state troopers linked his crime to the MO of an unknown but very much active serial killer. Following a morbid game of cat and mouse, Hanson confessed to capturing over 17 women, flying them out into the Alaskan wilderness and then hunting them down like big game.

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If you’re any kind of murder-phile then you’re probably familiar with Hanson’s story, but though The Frozen Ground’s broad focus is the capture of the killer, the storyline revolves around the relationship between Hanson escapee Cindy Paulson (a versatile Vanessa Hudgens) and detective Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage), whose planned retirement – ‘It’s my last two weeks!’ – gets put on ice until the killer is under lock and key. And chains. And a prison ball. Pinning the whole thing together is John Cusack as the human-trophy collector, and his menacingly methodical denial of all accusations during a chilling interrogation scene is the highlight of the film. It’s also a bit of a currently-trending character actor’s convention, with Kevin Dunn, Dean Norris and Matt Gerald beefing out the murder squad.

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The Frozen Ground falls apart in the sloppily slapped together ‘solving’ element, which boils down to montages of Nic Cage looking concerned and flipping through pictures of dead girls, occasionally yelling at some lackey to search the crime scene again (and again and again). There is no tension here, and in comparison to the incredible new show True Detective, it falls just short of parody. It does look great though. Patrick Murgia (currently cinematographer on the acclaimed Low Winter Sun) brings the piercing beauty of the Alaskan mountains to ominous life, constantly reminding you how easily those 17 girls were almost forgotten, swallowed up in the unforgiving expanse of Hanson’s evil. The Frozen Ground is an adequately serviceable thriller which gives a glimpse into how the demented half lives, and it’s a promising start for Scott Walker, who also scripted the film. According to FBI Violent Crime statistics, there are up to 300 currently operational serial killers in North America, so stay frosty out there!

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