“THE FROZEN GROUND” (DVD/Blu-ray Review)
THE FROZEN GROUND has a few things we at FANGORIA really dig. One is gruesome staged murders, and another is a ratcheting aura of dread. And the third is Nicolas Cage. We put him on our cover back on issue #310 for myriad reasons—the main one being that Cage is a horror-film freak, and always brings a kind of supernatural delirium to even his most pedestrian roles. Love him or loathe him, there’s no one else like him. We fall firmly in the former category, of course…
But occasionally, Cage opts to dial down his inimitable operatic mugging and mute his mania in favor of delivering a serious, straight performance. This critic is a huge fan of Cage’s work in the undervalued horror noir 8MM, for example, where he puts his wounded eyes and hangdog face to work creating a character driven past comfort and haunted past the point of no return. That same sensitivity, coupled with extreme focus, reverberates through his work in THE FROZEN GROUND, an effective thriller that cribs its unbelievable narrative from actual events.
Now on DVD and Blu-ray from Lionsgate, THE FROZEN GROUND casts Cage as Alaskan state trooper Jack Halcombe, a gentle, kind Alaskan cop investigating the gruesome murders of a spate of young women—most of them prostitutes—found embedded in icy graves in the snow-blanketed woods. When another young streetwalker (Vanessa Hudgens) is found chained in a room, screaming, sexually assaulted and bloody, she points the finger at respected community pillar Robert Hanson (John Cusack). Of course, Hanson is her assailant, and of course he is also the serial killer in question, at large for over a decade. Thing is, the police don’t want to hear any of it and refuse to buckle at the testimony of a young, troubled prostitute. But Halcombe knows the truth, and will stop at nothing to bring this monster down.
THE FROZEN GROUND opened in select theaters in the U.S. before finding a home on VOD and disc, and went direct to home video in Canada with little or no fanfare. That’s a shame, as this pulp thriller is stylish, tense, tightly directed by Scott Walker (who also scripted) and gorgeously scored by Lorne Balfe. The violence is mostly after the fact, but the emotional sting of seeing broken bodies exhumed from frozen tombs is enough to evoke an intense visceral response. It’s a grim film. And while the leisurely pacing occasionally echoes that of a TV movie (the chief reason it was buried, no doubt), its central performances jettison it beyond routine B-procedural into something else entirely.
Cusack has evolved nicely from the cute-boy-next-door teen star of films like SAY ANYTHING… to a serious thespian, and his work lately in the genre—no matter the film—is always gripping (his turn as Poe in THE RAVEN is the main reason to watch that troubled picture). Here, he deftly walks a tightrope of panic, desperation, misery and malevolence. This is a man who is arrogant and almost proud of his ability to keep his crimes under wraps, defiantly thumbing his nose at the law while continuing to blaze bloody trails across his home state. But as with Cage, the essence of Cusack’s character is in his eyes, humanizing Hanson to the point where we almost—almost—feel a pang of empathy for him. When Cage and Cusack finally connect and share scenes together, the fireworks are quiet but palpable, with both performers at the top of their craft, their exchanges cerebral with an undercurrent of threat.
THE FROZEN GROUND has been out for some time and, due to its less-than-saturated media presence, has largely gone unnoticed. The disc releases are well worth a look, as they not only present the film in crisp widescreen splendor (Patrick Murguia’s wintry photography is sumptuous), in 1080p hi-def on the Blu-ray, but also offer a wealth of extras, including interviews with the actors and a passionate commentary by writer/director Walker, who explains his fascination with the case and the delicacy with which he portrayed real characters and events, while still pushing the agenda of creating a marketable thriller.
THE FROZEN GROUND won’t be a revelation to anyone schooled in this sort of cinema, but with its ace performances and solid storytelling, it deserves a better fate than just existing as a footnote flick for Cage completists.