Between 1971 and 1983, at least 17 women died at the hands of serial killer Robert Hansen — currently serving a 461-year term in an Alaskan prison for his crimes. It’s a chilling story, to be sure, one being brought to the big-screen by writer/director Scott Walker.
“The Frozen Ground” stars Nicolas Cage as a dogged trooper intent on proving Hansen’s (John Cusack) guilt with the help of the only living victim Cindy (Vanessa Hudgens). A trailer for the film hit the internet earlier this week, and as Walker made plain to MTV News, this isn’t just another serial killer film.
“I wanted to do something which had a lot more depth,” he explained of his feature-length debut. “I wanted to do something as if ’Silence of the Lambs’ was a true story but it felt — the way you experience it — like you literally drop into the middle of this case and it felt very real in a kind of ’United 93’ or ’Hurt Locker’ way, and it had a very intense dramatic arc to the characters and their relationships… I got really excited by the challenge of doing it, and then I felt like I needed to do it with as much integrity to the victims and the victims’ families as possible.”
To wit, Walker not only poured over hundreds of pages of case files, reports and profiling documents, but also spoke with nearly all of the key players.
“Everybody was incredibly supportive,” Walker said. “I was able to get an incredible amount of research and meet all the real people and go to all the real locations of everything to do with the case and then write the story and make the film.”
All the real people save for one — Hansen, himself, whom Walker didn’t want having any undue influence on the project (though Hansen is aware of the film).
Of course, translating a true story to the screen requires a tricky balancing act of fact versus fiction, which Walker said was among his chief concerns.
“That was my biggest challenge: to take something that happened over 12 or 13 years and then turn it into two hours,” he said. “Firstly, it’s really complicated, but also because of the sheer length of time, the amount of people involved. There are hundreds of people involved in every different case, and I didn’t want to end up in a situation where I have a film that is six months later, one year later, three years later, and it felt like it dragged on. I wanted it to really come in at the last minute, and like the actual investigating officer when he came in, and had to go over the last 12 years.
“On the whole, I was always trying to keep this as truthful as I could,” Walker continued. “Then you just have to have some moments where if you take out a whole story strand, the logic is no longer there… You have to create little bridges to make the facts still line up.”
Helping him tell the tale are Cage and Cusack, who spend a decent amount of screen time going at each other.
“These two come face to face for the first time in, like, almost a ’Frost/Nixon’ scene; this questioning scene, which is based on the actual interrogation and interviews that happened,” he explained. “It’s incredible. It was a very intense backwards and forwards game between these guys… They both came into the room and hadn’t really seen each other at all through the beginning part of the production, intentionally… Their performances are incredible. I’m not just saying that.”
“The Frozen Ground” hits theaters August 23.