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The Frozen Ground(2013)
An Alaskan police detective pursues an elusive serial killer who abducts women and frees them in the wilderness to hunt. The madman has been on the loose in Anchorage for over 13 years. Every attempt to capture him has only led to frustration for the local police, but Sgt. Jack Halcombe is certain he can succeed where his colleagues have failed. Later, Sgt. Halcombe gets the break of a lifetime when terrified teen Cindy Paulson manages to beat the killer at his own game. Cindy's struggle, however, has just begun. Now the closer she and Sgt. Halcombe come to cracking the case, the more cunning their sadistic target seems to grow!
For more about The Frozen Ground and the The Frozen Ground Blu-ray release, see the The Frozen Ground Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 29, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hudgens, John Cusack, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Katherine LaNasa, Gia Mantegna
Director: Scott Walker
» See full cast & crew
The Frozen Ground Blu-ray Review
A film that's hard to warm up to.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 29, 2013
It's perhaps a little ironic that in a supplementary feature included on this new Blu-ray release of The Frozen Ground that newcomer writer-director Scott Walker talks about wanting to invest a typical police procedural with a little "heart" by focusing on a would-be victim of a notorious Alaskan serial killer, a young girl who actually managed to survive more by the vagaries of chance and a little pluck than anything. And yet, The Frozen Ground really only springs to life when it details the relentless police work of one Sergeant Jack Holcombe (Nicolas Cage) to ensnare seemingly mild mannered baker Robert Hansen (John Cusack), whom Holcombe suspects of not only having viciously raped and imprisoned the surviving girl, but of having killed a slew of other young women who were either still missing after several years or whose remains had been found in the vast Alaskan tundra. There really was (and in fact still is) a hideous Alaskan serial killer named Robert Hansen, currently serving a hefty 461 year sentence for his crimes, and indeed there even was (and still is) a real life Cindy Paulson (portrayed in the film by Vanessa Hudgens), the lucky young female who managed to escape Hansen's sick clutches and whose work with the police helped bring Hansen to justice. Interestingly, the real life policeman who cracked the case was actually named Glenn Flothe, but he asked Walker not to use his real identity, in a perhaps ironic example of names having been "changed to protect the innocent". The Hansen case has several troubling aspects, not the least of which is the torturing, imprisonment and ultimate murders (usually done as "hunting" games in the wilderness, which Hansen saw almost as a sport). But Walker wisely or unwisely doesn't shy away from the grislier, unseemly side of the story, taking a somewhat opposite approach from other "based on real events" crime shockers like Zodiac. That decision at visceral, almost scarring, imagery actually makes the slow but steady progress to find evidence against Hansen the most compelling part of this film's storytelling, while the supposed "human interest" elements, including long portions devoted to Paulson and a couple of sidebars featuring relatives of victims, seem shoehorned into the proceedings, or perhaps more appropriately, procedurals.
Walker also mentions in the supplement on his writing of the film how he wanted to join the story in media res, and that's certainly the case here, with an initially confusing sequence that sees a bunch of police storming the crowded hallways of a hotel while a bunch of competing commotion—from both within a room and around the cops—creates a state of stifling urgency. The police finally break through the door of a room where they hear a hysterical woman moaning and screaming, only to find Cindy Paulson, alone and bloodied, in a state of meltdown in the room's bathroom, her wrists badly bloodied beneath a pair of handcuffs. She's not making much sense, but the policeman who finds her, Gregg Baker (Ryan O'Nan), takes her in his arms, comforts her, and assures her she's now safe from harm.
In one of the film's annoying (if perhaps accurate) conceits, only Baker initially believes Paulson, since she's an underage hooker with a long rap sheet to her credit and because the man she's accused of having kidnapped, raped and tortured her is an upstanding family man with a local business and an airtight alibi (in one element which is never really fully explained as the case unfolds). In the meantime, State Trooper Halcombe is looking forward to a transfer to a less demanding job which will allow him to spend more time with his anxious wife Allie (Radha Mitchell). An early morning call changes all of that—yet another body has been found out in the frozen Alaskan wilderness. Despite this being only the latest in a string of such discoveries, the police force is unwilling to link the cases, despite Halcombe's unwavering intuiting that there's a serial killer on the loose. When Baker takes matters into his own hands and mails information on Paulson and her accusations up the food chain, it ends up in Halcombe's hands, and he feels like he may finally have a break in the case.
It's at this point that The Frozen Ground both finds its footing and also ironically starts to stumble. Since we already are aware that Hansen is the killer, there's no suspense in that regard. Instead the film's tension is built out of a number of cobbled together plot elements, including Halcombe's search for convincing evidence, Hansen's simultaneous denials that he's done anything wrong even as he continues to stalk his prey, and Paulson's on-again, off- again status as a cooperating witness. The scenes with Cage and Cusack are often quite well done, especially once Halcombe decides to bring Hansen in for questioning, but Walker instead continually tends to focus on the more salacious side of the story, spending long sequences on the shocking decline into addiction that Cindy experiences and a number of other bad choices she makes along the way. Obviously Walker wanted a "hook" (as he himself talks about quite freely in the aforementioned supplement), but his approach here is voyeuristic and kind of smarmy feeling, as if he didn't trust the actual historical material to stand on its own merits.
Performances here are generally quite impressive, especially with regard to Hudgens, who pretty much erases any memories of High School Musical or her Disney outings in one fell swoop. Cusack is appropriately creepy, able to easily traverse both Hansen's gentle seeming public persona and his darker impulses. If Cage is fairly tamped down in this role, he at least nicely depicts a cop almost obsessively devoted to bringing down a horrible criminal. Walker and his cinematographer Patrick Marguia also make excellent use of the frigid Alaskan locations, bringing a palpable sense of isolation and sadness to the proceedings.
The Frozen Ground Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Frozen Ground is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but once again a digitally shot feature traffics relentlessly in extreme color grading, and of course once again many segments are bathed in either slate blues and grays or warmer amber tones. In this case, however, these choices reflect (in the first instance) the bitter cold of Alaska and (in the second instance) the rather ironically horrifying confines of Hansen's basement "trophy" room. Despite these artificial looking colors, fine detail pops quite well throughout this presentation, though a lot of the film features low contrast, which makes the incessantly dour and dark environments hard to make out some of the time. Walker also is a fan of the ever popular "jiggly cam" approach to shooting scenes, and his hyperkinetic camera work tends to make otherwise nicely detailed shots look slightly soft.
The Frozen Ground Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Frozen Ground's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is rather nicely detailed, but it tends to only spring fully to life with regard to some crowded scenes, like the strip club that is a recurring location, or, alternatively, with some really nice recreations of wide open aural spaces as the police discover some of Hansen's victims buried in the wilderness. Fidelity is excellent throughout this track, offering the dialogue—which is often up close and personal and almost hushed—and more bombastic elements, like Hansen's horrific acts (including "hunting") with ease. Dynamic range is quite wide here, but that range tends to be in fits and starts. The bulk of the film is really on the quiet side, detailing the focused work of Halcombe and his team trying to bring down Hansen.
The Frozen Ground Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Frozen Ground Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Walker is a self-confessed "newbie" to filmmaking, and perhaps a more seasoned hand could have better navigated the procedural and human interest sides of this story. As it stands, The Frozen Ground seems more than a bit exploitative. There are pieces here that work quite well, but things never gel into a satisfying whole. Instead we have time to admire the pristine barrenness of the Alaskan wilderness, or Hudgens' startling transformation into a drug addicted prostitute, but nothing ever ends up clicking on any emotional level. This Blu-ray does offer nice looking video and sounding audio, and it comes with some excellent supplementary material.
The Frozen Ground: Other Editions
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The Frozen Ground Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: October 1-8 - September 29, 2013
For the week of October 1st, Disney Home Entertainment bringing its iconic The Little Mermaid to Blu-ray. Other titles include the hilarious This Is the End, new catalog releases of House of Wax and The Big Parade, a new 3D restoration of The Wizard of Oz, and ...
• The Frozen Ground Blu-ray (Updated) - July 16, 2013
Lionsgate Films have revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray director Scott Walker's crime thriller The Frozen Ground (2013), starring Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, and Radha Mitchell. The preliminary release date set by the studio is ...
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