In The Frozen Ground, Nicolas Cage plays Alaska State Trooper Jack Halcombe, whose superiors put him on the trail of a killer targeting prostitutes in the Anchorage area. But Jack isn’t happy about this assignment, because, wouldn’t you know it, it’s his last two weeks on the force! What are the chances, right? So here we the viewers are, on the trail of a killer with Nic Cage, as Jack tries to piece together this mystery. But how will Jack ever catch this psycho? What’s his motive? Who could it be?! Oh wait, hold on. He’s right there. It’s John Cusack. He’s got the girl there in his basement. I see him. Right there. So… never mind?
Okay, but seriously now. What I’m getting at here is that Frozen Ground, for all its strengths, is just a tad bit too obvious to be really, truly interesting or engaging. The cinematography throughout is quite striking, especially the aerial photography of the vast Alaskan wilderness, and Cusack delivers an eerily low-key and natural performance as the serial killer Robert Hansen. But we have Nic Cage trying to track him down and all the time there’s Hansen just doing his thing as though nothing were wrong. It results in an awkward tonal shift whenever we switch between the two (three actually, when you factor in Vanessa Hudgens as Cindy, the only girl who got away from Hansen). Structurally, it resembles Silence of the Lambs in the way it switches back and forth, but the naturalness of Cusack’s performance when compared to Silence’s Ted Levine ultimately undercuts the tension rather than amplifying it. So why not keep the killer’s identity a secret in favor of generating additional suspense? Well, that’s because Robert Hansen is a real life personage, the most prolific serial killer in Alaskan history in fact. Frozen Ground is based on a true story and there would therefore be no point in trying to obscure his identity.
So what of it? Where does this leave us? What’s a filmmaker like Scott Walker to do when he wants to capture a low-key, realistic portrayal of a serial killer without undermining the suspense of his otherwise fairly straightforward thriller? Honestly, I don’t know. But this was a problem for me and I really wanted to like the movie. With three characters almost equally sharing center stage and Cusack and Cage both delivering equally subdued performances, I had nothing to hang my hat on, so to speak. And I simply found myself unable to warm up to The Frozen Ground (no pun intended, I swear). Still, for those more dedicated to cinematic portraits of serial killers than I (and I know those folks are out there), I should think there’s a serious appeal here. What’s more, as I mentioned above, it’s a beautiful film to look at, so it’s got that going for it as well. But for me the picture fell flat.
Still, if you want to give it a shot yourself, the film is available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from Lionsgate, and it comes packaged with a slew of special features including behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, commentary with writer/director Scott Walker and producers Mark Odesky and Jane Fleming, and a trailer gallery.