Does anybody remember this effort from first-time writer/director Scott Walker (not to be confused with the musical genius of the same name) hitting theaters at all? I sure don’t, and even though my memory is nowhere near what it once was — basically because I’m learning over time to just plain forget shit I don’t care about — I think I’d have at least some dim recollection of a serial killer flick starring semi-A-list talent like Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and Vanessa Hudgens (and featuring supporting turns from the likes of Radha Mitchell and Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris) playing at the multiplexes in my area if, indeed, it ever did so. Hell, it sounds like the kind of thing I might even go see.
In any case, my best bet is that the 2013 release date attached to The Frozen Ground is a home video release date, because the only actual information I can glean about this film’s box office take from IMDB is some shit about how much business it did in the Netherlands, which is probably the only place where it was released on the big screen. I’m not sure I’d choose to play it that way if I were one of the producers and financiers of this thing given it cost a reported $27 million to make, but whatever. Not my call. Let’s just assume, then, that this was, for all intents and purposes, a DTV feature by the time it came out, even if it didn’t start out as one . Sound fair?
Granted, whether or not any particular movie ever played theaters shouldn’t have any sort of effect on how we judge its relative merits, but who are we kidding here? I flat-out expect less from straight-to-DVD numbers than I do from theatrical releases, and I’m betting that you do, as well. Which is what makes a fair-minded analysis of Walker’s flick so difficult, because as a medium-budget theatrical release it’s certainly no great shakes, but as a bigger-budget DTV feature, it’s actually not too bad.
Fair warning, though : if you’re bored to death by police procedurals, The Frozen Ground won’t do much for you. We know the identity of the killer from the outset (it’s Cusack, doing a reasonably good job portraying infamous Alaska serial murderer Robert Hansen, which is not a name I’d ever want to give a kid being another Robert Hansen was also America’s most notorious modern-day turncoat spy), so the main focus here is on how Cage, in his role as state trooper Jack Halcombe, brings him in with the aid of the psycho’s only known escapee, streetwise prostitute Cindy Paulson (Hudgens). Oh, and while Halcombe’s on the hunt for Cindy to give him a positive ID on her assailant, Hansen himself and a paid lackey are hot on her trail as well, trying to silence her permanently before she can squeal.
Sound familiar? I thought so. It may be based on a true story, but in essence The Frozen Ground is Vice Squad meets Alaska State Troopers. And that brings up the problem of unfortunate comparisons because, solid as Cusack is (and so is everyone else if I gotta be completely honest — even Cage, who has mailed it in time and time again in too many higher-profile-efforts-than-this-one to mention), he ain’t no Wings Hauser. If you’ve never seen Ramrod’s harrowing pursuit of Princess in Gary Sherman’s uber-sleazy 1982 exploitation classic for yourself, then the menace oozing from this flick will probably be enough, but if you have, well — nothing else is ever going to measure up, is it?
True crime fans will, needless to say, probably find a bit more to like here than the average movie-goer, but some reasonably compelling performances, gorgeous Alaska shooting locales (even though that state’s been done to death in recent years, particularly on “reality” TV) and a decent number of entirely-expected-but-nonetheless-well-handled twists and turns make for a pleasant enough time being exposed to a pretty fucking unpleasant story. Like I say, if I’d shelled out 8 or 10 bucks (ore more, given today’s prices) to see this thing in a theater I’d have left feeling somewhat underwhelmed, but given that I caught it on Netflix (sorry, no DVD or Blu-Ray specifications included with this review), I was fairly satisfied with everything as a whole. That might not constitute the most overwhelming endorsement by any means, but if you’re in the mood for something that’s just sorta “good enough,” you could certainly do a lot worse than this.