"How many High School Musical movies did you make?"

“How many High School Musical movies did you make?”

Considering some of the stuff that receives theatrical distribution (Runner Runner comes to mind), The Frozen Ground is a surprising title to open directly to DVD. Starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack –previously seen together in Con Air– the film is a police thriller inspired by real events reminiscent of Zodiac. It’s not as great as those two, but it has its own merits.

Set in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1983, the film follows the last months in the hunt of a serial killer operating in the area for 13 years. The main suspect, Robert Hansen (John Cusack), is a mild-mannered guy with plenty of ties with the community. So much so that nobody would take him for a murderer. His house of cards comes crashing down when Cindy, a would-be victim (Vanessa Hudgens, further distancing herself from her wholesome image), manages to get away.

The very reluctant witness falls in the radar of dodged detective Halcombe (Nicolas Cage), who discovers a pattern between a number of cold cases and the events surrounding Cindy’s kidnapping. After abusing them for several days, Hansen takes the girls to the wilderness and lets nature take care of the cover up. Most of the victims are young women living in the margins of society, and trigger little interest among the police.

Half character study, half procedural, The Frozen Ground plays it straight, perhaps too much. Cage is very contained and Cusack is inscrutable. The serious approach is commendable, but it makes the film a bit too dry. The only spark is provided by Hudgens as the very damaged Cindy, but when you have Nicolas Cage and John Cusack in the cast, it’s fair to expect fireworks.

The Alaskan setup adds an extra dimension to the film. The odd daylight and impossible climate provides The Frozen Ground with an unusual, perverse atmosphere. The film ends with real photos of Hansen’s victims, both found and still missing. It’s the one moment this frosty production melts a little. Three shifty-looking prairie dogs.