Based on a true story, The Frozen Ground is set in Alaska in 1983. We arrive late to the story as detective Jack Halcombe (Cage) is already convinced that Robert Hansen (Cusack) is responsible for the murder of three women, whose remains are discovered in the wilderness. However, it's only when prostitute Cindy Paulson (Hudgens) claims to have escaped Hansen that Halcombe believes he can build a case. But Hansen is a married man with kids and he's well liked in the community. Plus, he has an alibi for the night in question. As Halcombe scours Anchorage for more evidence, Hansen is forced to put aside his methodical approach to kidnap Cindy again, the only person who can finger him.
usack, looking for a suitable role since his loveable romantic loser shtick of High Fidelity, is a revelation as Hansen; he uses his everyman charisma before subtly turning creepy to get under the skin of the serial killer who would rape and torture his victims, before flying them into the wilderness, setting them free and then hunting them. Hudgens is surprising too; with this and Spring Breakers this year she looks to be doing her best to ditch the cute Disney image and she pulls off the foul-mouthed hooker without looking like she's trying too hard. Even Cage is restrained. While debut director Scott Walker could have reminded us of Hansen's ordinary guy persona by giving us some more family scenes, and maybe have created a little mystery as to who the killer is (we're told inside five minutes), his cold, dark visuals of Alaska's wilderness nicely contrast with the confines of Anchorage's seedy backstreets, and both lend the film a haunting atmosphere. All this works.
owever, it's when Hansen decides to hunt down Paulson, employing some nefarious Anchorage elements to unwittingly help him, that The Frozen Ground stops working; this is a disastrous deviation from the case's true events and the film doesn't recover. What was up until then a pretty nifty thriller, takes a left turn into action territory with a tension-free chase sequence.