The 1988 film The Accused in which Jodie Foster was gang raped in a local bar went some way in dismissing the attitude that if a woman dressed a certain way she was “asking for it”. The Frozen Ground, written and directed by Scott Walker is based on the true-life story of the rapes, murders and burials carried out by Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen, in and around Anchorage from 1980-1983. This, William’s first feature-length film, focuses on the final stages of Hansen’s spree. We are shown Hansen in the act so innocent until proven guilty isn’t an issue. What drives the film forward is the suspense built by State Trooper Halcombe’s efforts to gather enough evidence to persuade local law enforcement to arrest the allegedly respectable Hansen.
The film begins in 1983 when Cindy Paulson, played by Vanessa Hudgens, is found handcuffed and terrified in a motel bedroom. She claims to have been kidnapped, tied up and raped by local man Robert Hansen, played by John Cusack. As Cindy is a local prostitute and Hansen a respectable local businessman, the police give her a hard time down at the station before sending her back to the streets. State Trooper, Sergeant Jack Halcombe, Nicholas Cage, enters the film when a year later, a dead girl is uncovered out in the wilderness. Researching old cases of missing women presumed prostitutes or dancers Halcombe is convinced the dead woman is the victim of a serial killer. Finding Cindy’s testimony he believes she has survived the murderer he is convinced can only be Hansen.
How many dead prostitutes does it take to change an attitude? The local police had so little interest in prosecuting anybody for the assault on Cindy, never mind local resident Hansen, they didn’t even bother to collect the DNA evidence from the hospital. They are angry with Halcombe reopening the cases of missing women they hadn’t found and only start to help, reluctantly, when another woman’s body is found. The aerial shots of the snow-covered wilderness, contrasted with the frantic camera movements of Halcombe’s movements, capture the sense of urgency he felt in trying to stop Hansen. In juxtaposing this cold wilderness with the prostitute-lined city streets and strip clubs, Walker shows us an Anchorage that is a “wild west” kind of town, where men are men, women do what their husbands tell them to do and prostitutes well, they are just “asking for it”.
Any one of the three main characters Cindy, Halcombe or Hansen would have made a feasible protagonist for the film but instead Walker chose to take an overview of the story focusing on all three. As a result I was left needing more. We are told, not shown, that Hansen is a respected member of the community; we only glimpse this for a moment when he pops into the bakery to knead bread. In the scene with his family, dominating his wife he dismisses her plans to spend Thanksgiving with her parents. I wonder how he got away with leading his double life for so long? And what drove Halcombe? Over a period of a few days he puts his marriage and family on the line in his pursuit of Hansen, we are told his sister was killed in a car accident but there has to be much more of interest to this man who was so driven to find justice for all these women. Cindy escaped Hansen and was strong enough and brave enough to help Halcombe catch him, I’d like to have found out more about her too, and her ability to survive.
Nicholas Cage, Vanessa Hodgens and John Cusack all give good performances and while I usually complain that films are a bit too long and could do with more of an edit, my complaint with The Frozen Ground is that it could have been a bit longer, its 115 minutes but I would like to have seen a bit more of Cindy, Halcombe and or Hansen.
16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Frozen Ground is released on 19th July 2013