The Frozen Ground (2013)

(Video on Demand, December 2013) There isn’t much about The Frozen Ground’s script that’s in any way special.  Based on the sordid story of Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen, this is a film that does the usual serial-killer thriller in more or less the expected fashion.  Much of the execution is equally bland: Newcomer writer/director Scott Walker is entirely too fond of shaky camera tight close-ups and the result can be a bit annoying.  But location and casting both manage to raise this B-grade thriller to a level that’s worth watching.  Most noteworthy here is Nicolas Cage as the lead investigator: For once, he dispenses with the usual Cage histrionics in order to deliver a far more measured performance, and the result is an interesting throwback to early-era Cage, before he started playing a grander-than-life himself in every role.  (Make no mistake: I love operatic “nouveau shamanic” Cage, but the occasional change of tone is nice.)  It isn’t the only against-type casting coup of the film, as the repellant antagonist is played by John Cusack (far best known for smart good-guy roles) while Vanessa Hudgens, moving farther away from her earliest squeaky-clean roles, plays the vulnerable victim who is the key to breaking the antagonist’s secrets.  The Frozen Ground’s other big asset is location: by setting itself in cold dreary Alaska, the film gains a distinctive visual atmosphere, and seems to crank up the tension of the events a notch further.  The most satisfying scenes come late in the movie, as a subdued Cage and a wily Cusack face off against each other in an interrogation room.  None of those strengths make The Frozen Ground any better than a run-of-the-mill thriller, but they help make the film more memorable than another cursory effort at the serial-killer sub-genre.

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