'The Frozen Ground' an entertaining thriller

Thu, 09/26/2013 - 6:43am

Scenic views and cameos from well-known Alaskans mix with the drama of getting a serial killer off the street in “The Frozen Ground.”

I’m easily scared, so the intrigue kept me captivated for the entire 105 minutes. But beyond the thriller aspect of the movie, writer and director Scott Walker molded an engaging story that also touches on a survivor’s perspective, and law enforcement effort to build a solid case against Robert Hansen.

Cindy Paulson’s story is probably the more interesting side to the movie.

Paulson was the woman who, in real life, helped the Alaska State Troopers get Hansen off the streets. Hansen intended for her to be another victim, but she got away and Vanessa Hudgens brought that character to life in believable scenes.

Her treatment by law enforcement, which initially brushes off her story, and her hesitance to trust help, make for emotional scenes, although some are a bit contrived. She’s also captivating on her own, with a complex history that makes for an interesting tale about how teens wind up on the streets.

Walker said he talked to Paulson when he made the movie, and wanted to show her perspective. His interest in the story was in telling the victim’s story, he said after a Sept. 13 showing at the Bear Tooth Theaterpub in Anchorage organized by the Alaska Film Group.

At the end of the film, Walker also pays tribute to all the victims who did not survive.

Nicholas Cage also offers up a believable performance and is more down-to-earth than some of his other films. And John Cusack succeeds as the serial killer — creepy enough that I might be a little jumpy the next time I see “High Fidelity.”

Acting aside, the Alaska element is probably what makes the film. It’s fun to look for familiar faces in the crowd shots, and notice local actors in bakery scenes and former reporters in a press conference shot. There are some groaners when an Alaska word is mispronounced, but mostly the references throughout the film work.

Setting the heart-pounding scenes in Alaska’s familiar wild doesn’t tone them down, although it’s still fun to spot familiar places. It’s hard to imagine Alaska’s mountains as anything but beautiful, but “The Frozen Ground” injects them with a dose of anxiety. The use of Alaska’s wild flips much of the imagery we associate with the state today from gorgeous to gruesome.

The movie also recasts hunting in the 49th state. Large trophies in Hansen’s house are a frightening reminder that he has gone from hunting big game to hunting humans.

Majestic landscapes around Southcentral become slightly more nightmarish when you are afraid for a character’s life. And although I knew how one particular chase scene had to end — the character was a victim, not the survivor — I found myself rooting for her to somehow get away, and devastated when she didn’t.

The city scenes were particularly notable. Familiar landmarks, like Merrill Field and the Federal building are easy to spot. I wasn’t born when the pipeline was built, but the movie takes you back to the early 1980s, when downtown Anchorage had more nightlife than it did today. It was a little unbelievable to watch — really, were the streets crowded like Manhatten? That many cars cruising downtown?

Overall, the portrayal of Alaska is probably the best part of the movie, which is a fairly entertaining thriller.

Seeing it in Alaska isn’t too difficult: the movie didn’t get much of a run in theaters, but it’s available On Demand.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.