Man, isn't Alaska tough enough to live in without a particularly creepy and dorky-looking John Cusack raping and killing you? I'd say that Robert Hansen looks so much like a serial murderer - middle-aged, with glasses and a dead look in the eyes and everything - that any self-respecting stereotyper just had to know that it was him who did the deeds, but I'd be more suspicious of Nicolas Cage, and he's playing the detective. Cage just looks too crazy, and he's certainly deadly to the credibility of a film at this point, and yet, filmmaker Scott Walker still got him, as well as Vanessa Hudgens and 50 Cent for good measure. Man, I can see why no one is seeing this film, not because it's a low-profile, anti-commercial vehicle or anything like that, but because its cast isn't particularly promising, no matter how star-studded. I can understand 50 Cent being here, as he is also a co-producer for some reason, but after an "artistic" breakthrough like "Spring Breakers", I'm no longer convinced of Hudgens' having all that much integrity, or being 17 for that matter. Of course, I might just be saying that because the most remembered thing about this film is the fact that her 17-year-old character in this film is a stripper, and everyone keeps trying to assure him or herself (If you're into that thing, gals) that she's well into her 20s. Oh, she probably did worse when she was actually 17, but as she is now, in this kind of role, she doesn't exactly dampen this film's being fairly enjoyable all that much, as opposed to certain other elements.
The film attempts to freshen up a formulaic narrative with plot layering, focusing on the hunt for Robert Hansen, Hansen's interaction with his peers and targets, and even the origin of a teen prostitute who was able to escape Hansen, and do so with an ambition to milk this subject matter for all its worth that is worthy, but overblown, leaving the film to lose consistency in focus, or rather, what actual focus it has. Whether it be because the narrative is too overblown to progress all that smoothly, or because of sheer bloating to structuring, this film has a tendency to lose focus altogether and meander along repetitiously, no matter how much Scott Walker, at least as director, overemphasizes tonal heights. Walker's overt directorial attention to momentum prevents bland spells and is often pretty effective, yet it's just as often lacking in subtlety, bluntly overplaying intense score work and imagery to manipulate tension. The narrative structuring and somewhat manipulative storytelling both reflect an ambition that is in turn reflective of natural shortcomings within this small-scale thriller subject matter, which would be more compelling if the film was more ambitious about handling this story more uniquely. This is just another serial killer story, interpreted about as conventionally as it can be by Walker, as writer, with trite dialogue and formulaic characterization that craft a plot which is hopelessly predictable, and therefore plagued with bland familiarity. With all of my rambling about blandness, this film's entertainment value gets the final product by quite a ways, but neither it nor even the other strengths of this promising project can compensate for the structural and atmospheric bloatings that ultimately make the effort rather forgettable. Of course, while the film has your attention, it keeps a firm enough grip to engage adequately, even with decent looks.
The sharpness of the film's visual style goes dulled by a lack of specialty, as reflected by near-distancing camera shakery, a lack of originality and even limited depth to bleakness, which still distinguished enough within cinematographer Patrick Murguia's lighting and coloring with a rugged handsomeness that also adds to a sense of grit. Even visual style is rather lacking in this film which offers the bare minimum of ambition, but it's still inspired enough to reflect said ambition, which is overblown, but understandable, as this subject matter is intriguing, no matter how overblown and formulaic the interpretation is. Well, sure, natural shortcomings are in this thriller of limited urgency, and they go emphasized by uneven structuring and a feel of ambition, though if there is meat in this dramatic serial killer hunt, - and, make no mistake, there surely is - then it is done justice by the very direction that tries too hard in certain places. While overly hopeful, both as writer and director, newcoming filmmaker Scott Walker's efforts meet ambition with enough inspiration, at least in terms of the direction, which sustains a consistent degree of entertainment value with momentous, if unsubtle plays on scoring and pacing, often used with enough realized control to deliver on genuine tension. Walker clearly wants engagement value to be more than adequate, but it's not like the final product's compellingness isn't serviceable enough to entertain and sometimes grip with dramatic weight that is supported most consistently by the performances. That especially goes for the more major cast members, with John cusack being convincing, if underwritten as a seemingly grounded murderer, and Venessa Hudgens being surprisingly effective in a dramatically weighty portrayal of a young woman whose short life is plagued with past troubles and new dangers, while Nicholas Cage, well, once again portrays himself, but brings in the classic charisma and subtle dramatic effectiveness that we don't see as much of these days as we used to. This isn't exactly a comeback for Cage, or a revelation for certain other cast members, as this film is still not realized enough to be all that respectable of a project, but the final product is certainly endearing, with enough entertainment value and bite to keep you going as an entertaining, if underwhelming thriller.
When the heat has died down, uneven, if not aimless focus within, both structurally and atmospherically, overblown, and generic, storytelling leave the final product to limp barely into memorability, but a gritty visual style, interesting story, reasonably inspired directorial performance and solid cast are ultimately enough to make Scott Walker's "The Frozen Ground" an entertaining and often effective account of the hunt for an Alaskan killer of the '80s, regardless of ambition's being betrayed by a fair deal of issues.
2.5/5 - Fair