Tuesday, July 08, 2014

"Frozen Ground": young writer-director from New Zealand does a character study in a true crime docudrama set in Alaska in the 1980s

Frozen Ground” is a somewhat stereotypical thriller, set in Alaska, and the first feature film by Scott Walker.  Nicholas Cage plays state policeman Jack Holcomb, who has to work with an underage prostitute Cindy (Vanessa Hudgens) to catch a serial killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack, in what seems a bit an atypical role for him).  
The film is based on a true case from the 1980s and is written by the director, who probably saw the main writing challenge as presenting a female character who does not at first inspire a rooting interest to become critical to solving the case. Walker, who is from New Zealand, says that he started this as a fiction project, and found out it was a true story, which turned this into a research project.  Walker says he was interested in a “victim’s story” unfolding as a docudrama.  (The short where he explains his screenwriting process is called “Pen to Ink”.) Walker worked with manual timelines very much as I have with my own novel manuscripts.
He found the police officer, who said he was doing his job and was not a hero and didn’t want his real name used.  He eventually did find Cindy. 
One thing that is interesting to me is that Walker, while wanting to focus on the victim(s), was not fixed at first in what project he wanted to do, as I am.   Walker says “this is not a who-dunit”.  You know who did it at the beginning.  His first draft was 180 pages (three hours), cut down to 100 minutes. 
The pathology of Hansen becomes apparent, as sometimes he says he doesn’t remember his crimes.  The film credits say he led authorities to 17 gravesites. The film says it is dedicated to the victims. Hansen masqueraded as a family man but seemed to need to look down on some women as less. 
An early scene where a body is found by a sea inlet resembles the opening of “Twin Peaks”. The film has a cold beauty (there is a perpetual twilight) outdoors, which moves indoors into bar and police station scenes where the environment looks a bit crude. 

Lionsgate’s publicity site (Aug. 2013) is here.  The film can be purchased through YouTube for $12.99.  I don’t recall seeing YouTube purchases before. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Anchorage from space. I visited Alaska once, in 1980, on a triangle trip with Hawaii on the old Brnaiff.  

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