I was pretty skeptical when I first read about the upcoming release of The Frozen Ground, a film based on the capture of Robert Hansen.
Hansen is an American serial killer who killed an unknown amount of women in Alaska, though we know he murdered at least 17 and did so as recently as in 1982. Only one of his victims, a teenage girl, managed to escape. It was with her help that police were finally able to capture Hansen, who is currently living the rest of his live in a maximum security prison.
To be honest, once I heard that there would be a movie made on the subject, starring Nicolas Cage as the detective who led the investigation to catch Hansen, John Cusack as Hansen himself, and Vanessa Hudgens as the survivor, with a supporting cast that includes 50 Cent, I was worried. I was worried that such a horrific event would be trivialized and treated insensitively with a typical Hollywood film. Many people would also argue, “Too soon,” and truthfully, I would agree with them.
Scott Walker wrote and directed The Frozen Ground, and while it is far from perfect, I will say that it takes the subject very seriously. The cast members give fearless performances, particularly Hudgens and Cusack, and Walker’s script manages to depict the horror of what happened to the girls who were taken by Hansen without seeming exploitative. By the end of it all I was left with deep respect for those who brought Hansen down and a genuine sense of sorrow for the women whose lives were taken.
Many will want to watch The Frozen Ground solely to see the story of Hansen and how he was caught, and the film succeeds spectacularly with this objective in mind. That being said, the movie itself doesn’t entirely live up to the potential that such a shocking story provides. Some of the film’s tension-building scenes seem manufactured and out-of-place, created for the suspense, while other important scenes are somewhat boring, likely based on things that actually happened.
This creates a very obvious disconnect in The Frozen Ground at times, between what actually happened and what was added in for the sake of the drama. These obstructions in the otherwise smooth pacing are distracting, and I have to think that the film would’ve been better off without trying to heighten the tragedy of the story any further.
In terms of the acting, Hudgens is courageous as Paulson, giving a strong performance, of which I’m sure many people who know her from High School Musical assume she is incapable of. During her scenes, I was split between admiring the actresses’ ability to emote such a damaged individual, and wondering which aspects of her character are based in reality. The Frozen Ground examines her work on the street pretty closely, even documenting her relationship with a pimp, played by 50 Cent. These are the scenes that feel almost jarring as commercial dreck, in a film that otherwise feels very natural when following Sgt. Halcombe (Cage) and Hansen.
Cusack also delivers disturbingly well as the famous serial killer, reminding me of how twisted Stanley Tucci was able to become for The Lovely Bones. He manages to morph from “beloved celebrity John Cusack” into a sick, depraved killer in such a way that he gave me chills. When you look at his face on the screen, he definitely feels like a serial killer. He doesn’t have as many lines as Cage does, but Cusack triumphs in each of his scenes and with every little line. Cage excels as Halcombe, but it’s the emotional, powerful performances of Hudgens and Cusack that really do the nature of the film justice.
Now onto the Blu-Ray’s specifics. The film is presented in 1080p HD, which is more than adequate for a film that isn’t exactly relying on its special effects for your attention. Nonetheless, the film looks crisp and its dark, muted palate is gorgeous. The disc has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, presenting the dialogue sharply. The Frozen Ground is a film with a lot of dialogue, and this track produces it clearly in addition to the background noise of a strip club or a busy street.
Here’s a list of the special features on the Blu-Ray:
- Commentary with Scott Walker and producers Mark Ordesky and Jane Fleming
- Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Scott Walker
- Examining The Frozen Ground: Behind the Scenes with Interview of Cast/Crew
- Writing The Frozen Ground
- Extended Interviews with Cast and Crew
- Trailer Gallery
So if you’re interested in what director/writer Walker has to say, you’re in good shape here. Any home release of this film without him would’ve been silly, given just how involved he was in The Frozen Ground, which was clearly a meaningful project as it is his first feature-length film. There’s a very nice bank of features on this Blu-Ray concerning how the film was made as well, and The Frozen Ground is the kind of film where you’re genuinely curious, so these will definitely be appreciated by the viewer.
The Blu-Ray of The Frozen Ground is a good buy, if you are interested in the story, of course. It’s well-presented technically, and the special features listing is spot-on. If you’re not fascinated by the true story being depicted here, you might be better off spending your money elsewhere. But if you’re the type who gets engrossed in the Wikipedia list of American serial killers, or if you have a weak spot for true crime stories, The Frozen Ground might just be worth a purchase.
The Frozen Ground isn't a perfect film, but it is an engrossing watch for anyone intrigued by true crime stories as the actors involved bring justice to their real-life counterparts with courageous performances.