The Frozen Ground could have become a pretty special suspense thriller. Instead it became a decent suspense thriller, which is not a bad thing to be, don't get me wrong, but there is clearly a lot of wasted potential here. The true story of this notorious Alaskan serial killer is fascinating and terrifying, so clearly nobody can blame the source material. So what went wrong?
Let's start with the good things. Acting is excellent all around. Both Nicolas Cage and John Cusack did a great job, but Vanessa Hudgens is a true revelation here. Alaska is shown in its full cold beauty - you can see and feel how different life is there and how tough it can be to lure out a predator in his natural habitat. Nature scenes are beautiful, camera work is outstanding. It's a very well-crafted movie.
Unfortunately, 2 hours is not enough to properly cover the story. Robert Hansen had been killing women for many years, constantly evolving in his choices of victims and killing/torturing methods. He was bipolar and suffered from extreme mood swings, and yet he was well liked around the community, which let him maintain his image of a harmless baker. All of that is in the movie, but we only get a scene or two that establish his personality before he gets into a full psycho mode and stops being interesting.
The bulk of screen time is instead dedicated to one of his latest victims who managed to escape. Vanessa Hudgens is amazing here - damaged, scared, vulnerable yet full of energy and life at the same time. But the movie spends too much time following her life as a working street girl and her regular runaways from the only person who can help her - the case detective played by Nicholas Cage. After he desperately tries to find her again and again (at some point he lets her escape from his own house) it becomes frustrating. One time too many, definitely.
The Frozen Ground should have probably focused more on the killer. John Cusack can deliver some pretty disturbing stuff if asked to, and I think he was underused here. We never really get to know what drives this guy, why he is so obsessed with this particular type of young women and how he became the monster that he is. I'd really like to see more of the problems the investigation faced at the time as well. Running around after a witness for days and trying to convince a superior officer to issue a warrant is not exactly a thrill ride. The fact that we know who the killer is right from the start is also a bit of a let down.
Despite all these drawbacks The Frozen Ground is still a decent watch. Vanessa Hudgens proves that she is a legitimate actress, there are some intense moments, beautiful scenery, colorful supporting characters, and overall the movie is very well-made. A bit of a wasted opportunity for a pretty amazing thriller, but a solid effort nonetheless.
Box office: A negligible limited release for a 27 mil. movie is pretty horrible.
Should you buy this movie and make me rich? It's a perfectly decent rental, so sure, why not :)
The Frozen Ground on Amazon