The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Monday, January 19, 2015
The Frozen Ground (2013)
This is one I noticed on Instant a while back and really wanted to check out, especially because it has Nicolas Cage and John Cusack. What happened though was Jamie and I had done Killing Season for the pod, and we both felt we needed a break from "90s-00s big name star does DTV". So we took about eight weeks and looked at some other films-- plus I got married-- and then came back to it. Let's see how it went.
The Frozen Ground is based on the true story of Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen (Cusack). In it we follow the story of Cindy Paulson (played by Vanessa Hudgens), and Det. Jack Halcolme (Cage). Cage is trying to crack the case of this serial killer, and Hudgens is the one woman who got away from the serial killer, making her the key to bringing him down. It's a race against time as Cage tries to lock him up before he kills again.
We both enjoyed this one, and it worked on a lot of levels. First, it's not your usual serial killer film that tells the story from serial killer's point of view. In fact, Hansen's part in the film is smaller, and it's a credit to Cusack that he does so well with that small part to make it seem bigger. Second, speaking of Cusack, he, Cage, and Hudgens all turn in great performances which makes the film work that much more. Without good performances we might as well watch the Robert Hansen hour-long bio on the ID channel, and this film and these actors give us a reason to watch this instead. Finally, it has a lot of great supporting characters played by myriad character actors that we saw throughout the 90s and 2000s that really gave the film a feel like it was a Hollywood flick made in 2001 instead of DTV in 2013, among them Michael McGrady, Kevin Dunn, and Kurt Fuller. My one complaint was that we had some deal with 50 Cent as a pimp that felt grafted in and bogged the film down for me, but Jamie wasn't as annoyed by it as I was, so maybe that's just me and my "anything over 90 minutes is bad" issues.
Let's start with Mr. Cage. We joke about him often, and he's become sort of an Internet meme and butt of jokes, but this film really took me back to that late 90s/early 2000s Cage who was at the top of his game and the king of Hollywood. From the moment it starts he gives us a guy we can root for and want to see win. There's nothing gimmicky or quirky about this character, and he never goes off the rails, he just gives a solid, earnest performance, and the film is better for it. I don't know where this Cage has been, and I'm not saying I don't love the quirky or over-the-top Cage, it's just good to have this mixed in every once in a while.
As I said above, Cusack is also great as the serial killer. He has this way in his limited screen time of giving us the three sides of all serial killers: innocuous, popular local man whom no one would ever suspect; sick fiend who craves power and dominance over women to the point of committing these heinous crimes; and then cowering wimp who can't handle when the power dynamic has changed and Cage as the police detective is in control. Cusack gives us all so effortlessly and naturally, it's scary. Unlike Cage, who probably would have done the part he had if this had been made in the 2000s, I don't know if Cusack's agent would have let him play the serial killer, because of the kind of role it was.
Let's get back to this idea of what the film would have been in 2000 versus 2013. Overall this would have been a big screen Hollywood release that would have turned around and made huge money in DVD (and still VHS at that time as well) rentals and TV licensing. By 2006 it would have been a TNT "New Classic", in heavy rotation with films like Kiss the Girls, US Marshals, and Domestic Disturbance, and my mom would have passively left it on after a Law and Order episode on a lazy Saturday. On the one hand, a 2000 theatrical release would have meant a longer runtime, more padding, and probably a larger focus on Cusack and Cage. More cat and mouse, more thrill-- in short, not the movie we got here. Maybe 2013 was the time to make this film, and we're lucky for that.
Finally, we always talk about our morbid fascination with serial killers, and what I liked about this film is that it wasn't that. One scene I really loved was when Cage has Hudgens stay at his home, and his wife, played by Radha Mitchell, is upset about that. Later she comes around and realizes that was wrong of her, but it also illustrated a great point: we as a society can have a morbid fascination with serial killers because we have that luxury. Like Radha Mitchell's character, we can shut our eyes and go back to our own lives, because serial killers happen out there to other people, and what Mitchell's character was upset about initially was that her husband was turning "other people" into "them". What this film tells us is that there are people who don't have the luxury of going back to their own lives, who don't have the luxury of a morbid fascination with serial killers. These people are their victims and the victim's families. They don't get to just watch the show on ID, or post pics of John Wayne Gacy in a clown suit on Tumblr, then change the channel or close their browser and have everything be okay. Radha Mitchell's character realizes also that her husband, due to the line of work he chose, also doesn't have the luxury of serial killers only happening to "other people", and without him doing his job a man like Hansen is never brought to justice. The film finishes this thought off by giving us a picture of each victim in the credits, as opposed to showing Hansen.
Again, The Frozen Ground was a yes from both of us. This is the Cage and Cusack you were accustomed to in the late-90s/early 2000s, only now it's without the bells and whistles of a big screen Hollywood production, which I think makes it that much better. Definitely worth checking out while it's on Instant. And you can always check Jamie and I out live every Wednesday from 8-9 EDT at www.mixlr.com/2nd-unit, and can download the podcasts after on the archive page here on the site; or on iTunes, just type in DTVC Podcast and subscribe.
For The Frozen Ground episode, right click here and select "save link as".
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2005374/