‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves’ this quote from Matthew chapter 10 verse 16 opens Scott Walker’s (not the singer dummy!) debut directorial feature film outing The Frozen Ground (2013) which is based on the real-life manhunt for serial killer Robert Hansen. Between 1971 and 1983 Hansen murdered between 17 and 21 young women in or near Anchorage Alaska. He kidnapped them and took them out to the Alaskan wilderness, let them go and then hunted them down, killing them with his hunting rifle and then burying them.
Also written by Walker, this American thriller is undercut with a relationship drama built on trust, between the seventeen-year-old pole dancer and prostitute Cindy Paulson and the investigating officer Sergeant Jack Holcombe, who was based on real life policeman Glenn Flothe, played by stony faced Nicholas Cage, a man who became obsessed with solving the murders and putting the killer behind bar’s. It was Paulson who was Hansen first victim to ever escape and report to the police, she told them that she had been offered $200 to perform oral sex, but when she got into the car Hansen pulled a gun on her and drove her to his home in Muldoon; there, he held her captive, torturing, raping, and sexually assaulting her. She escaped while Hansen was trying to load her into a vehicle.
This was a horrendous murder case whose victims were young girls that ‘respectable’ society looked down upon while allowing one of its ‘respectable’ citizens to take full advantage of a system that did not protect its sex workers. Robert Hansen, wonderfully underplayed by John Cusack, was a complex character, a church going family man, married with a child, and a well-liked everyman in the community where he lived. But a ruthless individual who planned his killing’s down to the last detail.
Because of its dark subject matter and the fact that it was based on real characters Walker had to tell the story with respect for the victims and their families. He also manages to avoid portraying the police involved in the investigation as heroes, just ordinary men and women doing the job they are paid for. The film also attempts to give you an understanding of what motivates a man to carry out such cruelty, but I’m not sure it succeeds, as this is an unachievable task and do we really ever know why such men carry out a series of killings, other than perhaps for sexual gratification?
Vanessa Hudgens, who plays Cindy Paulson, had to meet the real Cindy to understand fully the complexities of the character she was to play. Paulson told her the reason she stuck with the investigation and was willing to be a witness for the prosecution was she felt that she represented all the victims that were unable to have their say. Cindy Paulson was typical of the victims in that she had run away from home when she was eleven and by the time she was thirteen she was on the streets.
Although this movie was not very well received by the critics it certainly has some very commendable points. Vanessa Hudgens is totally believable in the role Paulson and to my mind deserved recognition in the awards season. Also DOP Patrick Murguia handling of the cold dark isolated feel to the location shooting allowed the bleak atmospherics to almost become an accomplice in Hansen’s horrendous crimes. The final word must go to the director ‘perhaps the film will make audiences think more about the people on the streets, the girls, the homeless, that they are real people who were once part of a family’