When a young woman escapes from a man she believes was intent on killing her, and bodies begin to appear around the state, the Alaska State Troopers launch an investigation into Robert Hansen (John Cusack), and try to track down a man who could be one of the most prolific serial killers the state has ever seen.
Based on a true story, The Frozen Ground is the story of the investigation into the disappearance of more than 20 women in the 1970s and 1980s. Robert Hansen was the man finally charged with the crimes, but only after many women died, and one escaped his clutches.
Nicholas Cage plays state trooper Jack, who is just two weeks away from leaving this life all together… You know the trope. Cage does not delineate, and instead plays Jack as a cliché trooper called in for one last job before he leaves town. We have all seen this performance before. The same goes for John Cusack as Hansen; Cusack proved that he still has some tricks up his sleeve with his performance in The Paperboy, but almost none of that talent for creepiness is on display here. Cusack is never given a chance to show his character’s motivations, so Hansen becomes a man who just kills.
Vanessa Hudgens is the actor who comes out of the film best, moving even further away from her Disney girl image, she plays Cindy, a prostitute/stripper who smokes, drinks, curses and does drugs while trying to forget the horror of her past. This is not a perfect performance by any means, but she is the actor who is closest to being given a real character, and she gives the strongest performance of the film, and perhaps her career to date.
Writer/Director Scott Walker has taken a true story and tried to turn it into a thriller. The trouble is that he shows the audience all his cards at the beginning of the film. Knowing who the killer is takes the mystery and tension out of the film. The Frozen Ground tries to tell the stories of all three of its central characters, and ends up telling bits of everyone’s, but the whole of no-ones. If one character had been moved to the fore, then this could have been the story of a killer struggling with his guilt, a cop struggling to juggle his family life or a victim wrestling with the decision to testify or not. Instead, The Frozen Ground is all of those things… And none of them.
The Frozen Ground tries to be a smart and complex thriller, but by revealing its cinematic cards too early, tension and mystery disappear. Cage and Cusack give the same performances we have seen from them in recent years, but Hudgens gets a chance to do something different and obviously relishes the challenge.