Review: The Frozen Ground

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: The true story of serial killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack) who, during the late seventies and early eighties, killed somewhere between 17- 21 young women, hiding their bodies in the Alaskan wilderness. An Alaskan detective (Nicolas Cage) – convinced Hansen is the culprit- has to find the evidence to lock him up before he strikes again, and must rely on the testimony of a troubled young woman, Cindy (Vanessa Hudgens) who’s the only one to ever escape his clutches.

REVIEW: THE FROZEN GROUND surprised the hell out of me. Considering the small theatrical release this is getting (coinciding with VOD, which will probably drum up most of the movie’s business) I honestly wasn’t expecting much out of this. Both Cusack and Cage have spotty track records lately, with many of their films going the DTV route, so I figured FROZEN GROUND would just be another STOLEN or THE FACTORY.

Happily, THE FROZEN GROUND is most definitely a cut above those films. I’m not saying it’s “amazing” or a sure-fire comeback movie, but it’s a solid, entertaining thriller, reminiscent of the kind of mid-budget thrillers the big studios have all but abandoned over the last few years.

Based on a true story, THE FROZEN GROUND is unique in that right from the start, the audience knows Cusack is the killer, with his cruel method of keeping the girls for a week, and then hunting them in the wilderness being depicted in a chilling- but never exploitative- way. Cage’s character, who’s an investigator serving out his last two weeks on the force in order to switch over to the private sector to please his wife (Radha Mitchell), also figures out Hansen is the killer pretty early on. The twist here, and the way the movie ratchets up tension, is that Cage has to find the evidence to prove his theory before Hansen, who no one else thinks is guilty, claims another victim.

Both Cage and Cusack are given a lot more to work with here than usual. Cusack’s played a killer before (who could forget his scenery-chewing in THE PAPERBOY?), but his Hansen is low-key, and underplayed, making him all that much creepier. For Cage, this is the best role he’s had in years. Cage is always Cage, with him chewing the scenery like no one’s business, and more often than not wearing some kind of crazy wig. Here, he plays his part completely straight, and absolutely nails the kind of quiet, smart, compassionate cop he’s supposed to be playing. There’s no room for over the top heroics here, or impassioned speeches. Rather, he’s just a guy trying to do what’s right, and put away this monster that’s preying upon young runaways, who he figures won’t be missed.

Fresh off her change-of-pace part in SPRING BREAKERS, Vanessa Hudgens once again goes against type as Hansen’s would-be-victim Cindy Paulson, a crystal-meth addicted stripper/ sometimes prostitute (with Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who also produced, playing her pimp in a small part). Hudgens is really working hard to abandon her former Disney princess image, and she’s pretty damn good as Paulson, in a role that’s probably just about as prominent at Cage’s. The two play well-off each other, with them having an interesting surrogate parent-child type dynamic that gives the film a much-needed emotional current.

The direction of FROZEN GROUND is another asset, with it being the debut of Kiwi director Scott Walker, who also wrote the script. For a first time effort, it’s surprisingly gritty and subtle, with him allowing the already incredible facts of the case to take precedence, along with the performances. He gets a lot out of his Alaskan locations, with this also being probably the only eighties-set thriller that doesn’t go overboard in mullets, and pastels, making it seem more how the era really was than how people seem to think it was nowadays. The musical score by frequent Hans Zimmer collaborator Lorne Balfe is also quite good, with the soundtrack rarely relying on period music (although the music they do use is very obscure, which I suppose is a budget thing).

Again, THE FROZEN GROUND isn’t the new SE7EN or anything like that, but it’s a pretty damn efficient, thoroughly entertaining thriller. More than anything, it proves that when he’s properly inspired, Cage is still fully capable of delivering a good or even great performance. If you come across this on VOD this weekend, you should definitely check it out. It’s much better than you’d think it would be considering the way it’s being released.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.