THE FROZEN GROUND
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Liliroze.
This movie is based on a true story.
In Alaska, a state trooper is called to a motel where a woman is locked in a room, screaming, disturbing the other residents. The officer breaks down the door and finds Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) handcuffed, bleeding and hysterical. She is screaming, “He’s going to kill me,” begging that he remove the cuffs. The officer takes her into the hospital, where a rape kit is gathered, and then to the station.
At the station, it is discovered she is a known prostitute, and the interrogating vice investigator (not the original officer) is suspicious of her story. Cindy claims a local man named Robert Hansen (John Cusack) kidnapped and raped her, kept her chained by the neck to a pole in his house, and she managed to escape when he tried to take her into the woods in his Piper airplane.
Hansen has an alibi and witnesses, and is considered an upstanding member of the community, married with 2 children. Unable to poke holes in her story, the vice cop says he’s going to let her go and that there is no case. The original officer stands up for her, knowing how frightened she was and insists they investigate further. He gets nowhere.
Officer Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage) gets a call about a body that has been found. At the site, it is discovered a bear has gotten to the body, making forensic evidence difficult to find; however, a .223 caliber bullet is found, and the police can tell the person was shot execution-style. Halcombe learns the body is female, young, and her clothing had been cut open.
Holcombe has been investigating various cases where other bodies have been found; also young women have disappeared, and begins to piece together a pattern. He learns of Cindy Paulsen, and is upset that her story wasn’t taken seriously. Going to Lieutenant Bob Jent (Kevin Dunn) he tries to convince him that Hansen should be investigated further. He is reminded of the disappearance of Debbie Peters, who worked at the same club as Cindy, and had a similar story Debbie had told her roommate that a man had offered her $300 to take pictures of her, which was a similar story to Cindy’s in addition to the fact that Debbie Peters and Cindy look almost identical. Jent tells Halcombe that Hanson had an arrest for attacking a girl 20 years ago, and only served a minimal sentence , but just because he was guilty then, doesn’t mean he is guilty now. They need real evidence turns out the FBI had mishandled the rape kit gathered from Cindy, so there is no DNA evidence in her rape case.
Halcombe eventually decides to question Cindy on his own, but she has disappeared back onto the streets. Halcombe hooks up with a vice cop willing to help, who teaches him the street lingo and takes him to the “ho-stro” the “‘ho stroll” an area of town packed with strip clubs and motels, filled with prostitutes working the street. The vice cop warns him it will be hard to get people to give him information on Cindy. He describes how well-organized the sex trade is the pimps cycle girls through Alaska, California, Hawaii and other states, keeping the talent fresh for the customers.
Armed with a Polaroid of Cindy, Halcombe works tirelessly, trying to locate her. He eventually ends up at the club where Cindy dances, and the bartender tells him she hasn’t seen Cindy for a few days, and that her pimp Clate Johnson (50 Cent) doesn’t like that Cindy dances there and is always trying to get her back onto the streets.
As Halcombe continues to look for Cindy, we begin to meet Robert Hansen. An avid hunter and pilot, his house is filled with hunting trophies (stuffed heads) of many and varied animals. His wife and children are away visiting relatives, and he is working in a room that contains a lot of his hunting gear.
A montage of scenes follows the kidnapping of Debbie Peters 18 months ago, Cindy’s fall into prostitution around 18 months ago, and the search for Cindy by Halcombe in present day.
Montage storylines (shown at different intervals):
Story 1 (18 months ago):
While Cindy tries to work the streets as a new girl, she is befriended by Chelle (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) who decides to “help” her by getting her started dancing at the strip club instead of working the streets. She introduces her to brandy drinking and meth, then puts her on stage while intoxicated. Cindy begins to dance and make good tips when Clate shows up and pulls her from the stage. He starts telling her she needs to get back on the street. Cindy manages to stick up for herself.
Story 2 (18 months ago):
Debbie Peters is sitting on the floor crying, a chain around her neck. Hansen walks into the room and is disgusted that she has urinated on the floor. Tossing her a blanket, he makes her wipe it up, but she cries that she can’t reach it all because of the neck chain wrapped around a post. She pleads for her life, saying that she has a young daughter and wants to go home. Hansen teases her with a gun, when suddenly a man walks into his house (obviously a relative or neighbor), looking for Hansen. In the back den with his victim, Hansen threatens her into staying quiet. Appearing in the kitchen, Hansen asks the man what he wants, and he says he has brought Hansen dinner, saying that his wife was concerned Hansen wouldn’t eat with his wife out of town. Hansen plays it cool and escorts the man out. He then returns to Debbie and says he’s going to take her to his cabin. Hansen puts her in his plane and flies her to his hunting area. He then unchains her and appears to sloppily let her go really, he is watching her in his rifle site, and as she runs away into the woods, hysterical, he tracks and shoots her like an animal. Once she is down, he walks over and finishes her off, taking a piece of her jewelry as a souvenir.
Story 3 (present):
Cindy is eventually found and Halcombe interviews her. He learns she is 18 years old, but had been only 17 when Hansen had kidnapped her. Cindy is clearly intelligent and has good instincts. She knows that a photo of Halcombe with a woman is a picture of him and his sister, and she guesses correctly that the sister is dead. Halcombe is tight-lipped about the details. Cindy repeats her story to Halcombe and says that when Hansen was raping her, she saw his eyes “go black” and she knew he would never let her go, and would never care if she pleaded for her life. She knew she would have to wait for her own opportunity to run. It came when he drove her to the airport, and he started messing around inside the cockpit she took off with her hands cuffed in front of her. She tells Halcombe that Hansen hadn’t used a condom and that she had been on her period, so she used a tampon to try to keep the sperm evidence inside her so they could catch him later with DNA evidence. But then she went to the police, and they didn’t care, and they didn’t catch him. Cindy, defeated, feels that Hansen has already gotten away with what he did to her. Cindy leaves.
Halcombe gets a call from a woman and goes to meet Janice (Hillarie Putnam) the sister of another missing girl named Sue Luna. She hasn’t seen her sister in 2 years, when she disappeared during a 2-week visit. She is desperate for information and Halcombe is sympathetic. Janice hands Halcombe her sister’s dental records and a copper bracelet, saying that Sue was wearing one just like it when she disappeared. The sisters had won them at a carnival years before. Halcombe tells her he knows how she feels and when he hands her back the bracelet, she tells him to keep it. She wants Halcombe to remember her sister better than the other missing girls, to help her find Sue so Sue’s body can be buried properly.
Holcombe meets with Cindy again, still trying to get her to cooperate. He tries to get to know her, to learn why she would rather live on the street than with her family. She tells him that she is tired of telling her story to people who don’t really care, and chastises him for not opening up to her about his sister. When Cindy tells him that her parents didn’t stop someone from hurting her for most of her growing up, and that is why she ran, she then gets frustrated and stands up to leave. Halcombe then tells her that his sister was killed by a drunk driver when she was only Cindy’s age. Cindy leaves.
Later that night, while dancing at the club, Cindy looks up and sees Hansen sitting at the bar as a customer. She freaks out enough that Hansen realizes who she is. He leaves and goes home, shuts himself in his hunting den, and finds the business card for the strip club. He calls there, trying to find out if a girl matching named Cindy works there, trying to arrange a meeting with her. He gets frustrated by the answers and rips the place apart. He then gathers up killing souvenirs (clearly showing the matching copper bracelet) and stuffs them into a bag. Unknown to Hansen, Halcombe is staking out his house, and they see Hansen leave along with his young son. A heavy snowstorm is coming in, and they fear he may try to stash something at the hunting grounds, which is exactly what he does, even though the officers try to stop the flight controllers from allowing him to take off in the dangerous weather. Hansen lands at his hunting ground, and while his son is busy “guarding” the plane, Hansen stashes the souvenirs in a hunting blind.
Later at a bar, Hansen is talking to a large man named Carl (Brad William Henke) and Carl tells Hansen that Hansen must be desperate to seek him out again. He then tells Hansen that finding “the girl” will cost Hansen “ten.” It is assumed that Hansen has just placed a hit on Cindy for $10,000.
The police find another body. This steps up the pressure. It is speculated that the body is Sue Luna, but they won’t know until dental records are investigated. They find .223-caliber shells in the grave.
Meanwhile, Halcombe desperately wants to find Cindy and try to get her to testify, knowing it is the only way to prosecute Hansen. He finds her at the airport trying to get out of town. He convinces her to come to his home and stay the night until he can get her protection. Later in Halcombe’s home, Cindy overhears Halcombe’s wife Allie (Radha Mitchell) telling Halcombe that it is too dangerous to have her there, and she doesn’t like it. Cindy packs up and leaves. Halcombe discovers this and goes looking for her.
Carl the hitman finds Clate the pimp and beats him up, saying that the next time Clate sees Cindy, Carl wants to know about it (Clate owes one of Carl’s people a lot of money, and Carl will forgive the debt in exchange for Cindy). Hansen goes out stalking for Cindy.
Cindy goes to the motel where Clate hangs out with his prostitutes, then on to the club. She gets some drugs (pills and powder) and goes into a stall and swallows / snorts. The powder is obviously not good because her nose is irritated and begins to bleed. She passes out against the stall door. In the meantime, Halcombe is repeating the process of looking for Cindy through ho-stro, flashing her picture around. Hansen is seen at the motel, wandering around and opening doors.
Hansen finds a locked door and is certain Cindy is behind it. The door to the bathroom stall opens, and Cindy falls out against a pair of men’s boots, and it is the vice cop that has helped Halcombe. Halcombe gets Cindy and personally carries her unconscious body out of the club, calling out to everyone to try to determine what kind of bad drugs someone gave her.
Later at the hospital, Cindy is awake and there is a crumpled photo near her pillow. Halcombe asks about it, and it is Cindy’s mother, who gave birth to Cindy when the mom was 15 years old. It was the mom’s uncle who abused Cindy from a young age. Halcombe tells her that everything is going to be all right. Cindy says that just once, she would like someone to really mean those words. Halcombe promises to help her in any way he can.
That night, Allie Halcombe gives her husband some toothpaste and personal items to take to Cindy. She realizes how important this job is to him, and she will support him because the missing women need someone to stand up for them.
Feeling afraid and restless, Cindy dresses in the hospital room and walks out while the guarding officer is distracted. Returning to the motel, she finds out that a man is looking for her who says he is “a friend of Bob’s.” Cindy immediately gets scared and leaves. She tries to call Halcombe but can’t get through to him. In the meantime, Halcombe has discovered Cindy is missing and is looking for her.
Clate the pimp finds Cindy and says he is going to drive with her out of town because he is worried about the money he owes Carl’s people. Instead, he tells Carl on the phone where they can meet up. Eventually, Clate pulls over into a deserted area, and Carl joins them. Clate pulls a gun on Carl and insists on getting money from Carl in exchange for Cindy. In the ensuing confusion, Cindy jumps into Carl car and drives away. Carl shoots Clate.
Cindy is hysterical and calls Halcombe again while driving. Halcombe says he will meet her at the motel. Clay finds her there too, and the cops confront Clay, who runs off leaving Cindy behind. Cindy is once again safe, and seems frightened enough to stay put with the police now.
Meanwhile, investigations on Hansen turn up that he has committed insurance fraud he had falsely reported all his large hunting trophies stolen, then used the money to purchase the Piper airplane. Using this information and an FBI profile of the type of man who would kill women in the manner that the bodies had been discovered (a 14-point profile matching everything about Hansen exactly) Halcombe finally gets permission to bring Hansen in, although everyone knows it is shaky ground, and they will have to look for evidence while they are questioning him on the insurance fraud. Mainly, they need to find the .223-caliber gun.
Halcombe is questioning Hansen hard about the missing women, and Hansen is staying cool, and hasn’t asked for an attorney. Meanwhile, the interrogation is interrupted at least 4 times while the team searching Hansen’s house keeps reporting in they have found plenty to get Hansen on the insurance fraud, lots of hunting rifles, but nothing regarding the kidnapping or missing women, and especially no gun with .223 caliber shells.
After an intense interrogation and many interruptions, Hansen finally asks for a lawyer. Halcombe turns on the tape recorder and formally charges him with the kidnapping and rape of Cindy Paulsen, and the disappearance of Debbie Peters. Halcombe leaves to join the search team while Hansen goes to a cell.
At the house, Halcombe tries to rally everyone. They’ve been searching a long time and haven’t found the gun or anything related to the missing women. Finally, a trap door is discovered in the attic, and Halcombe sees the .223-caliber gun and announces it to everyone.
While piecing together the investigation, Halcombe is given a map that the search team found behind Hansen’s headboard. Hansen’s wife tells investigators Hansen would look at in bed every night. Halcombe is appalled to realize that four of the locations where bodies were found are “X’s on the map. He notices there are more than 20 X’s, and realizes that Hansen could be a much bigger monster than they realized. Halcombe looks at the copper bracelet that still sits on his desk as a reminder, and wonders aloud what Hansen did with the souvenirs, especially if there are so many women.
With Hansen and his attorney in an interrogation room being questioned by others, Halcombe purposefully enters late, holding the map under his arm. He lays it out in front of Hansen and asks him what the X’s represent. Hansen says they are hunting locations, and the attorney is angry that he has never seen the map as evidence. Halcombe asks why 4 of the X’s coincide with places where dead bodies had turned up over the years.
Meanwhile, Cindy Paulsen is watching a closed-circuit screen and says that the man in the room is definitely Hansen. Back in the room, Halcombe takes his gamble and lays the copper bracelet in front of Hansen (pretending it is Sue Luna’s) and asks Hansen if the police were to go digging at all the X’s on the map, would they “coincidentally” find other dead bodies?
Hansen gets more and more angry, and starts yelling that the cops don’t know who they are dealing with, while his attorney tries to calm him. The door to the room then opens, and Cindy Paulsen speaks clearly, saying Hansen is the man who attacked her. Hansen screams, “You c**t! I should have killed you when I had the chance!” Cindy then calmly turns and walks away.
As a montage plays in the background, (mostly Cindy saying goodbye to the Halcombe at the airport and investigators looking in the wilderness and finding bodies with Hansen present) we are given an update on the events. Hansen was charged with the kidnapping and rape of Cindy Paulsen and the murder of the 4 women whose bodies were initially recovered. Ultimately, Hansen led them to 17 gravesites, where police were able to find 11 bodies. Hansen was sentenced to 461 years in prison, with no possibility for parole. Halcombe was promoted and eventually retired from the force. Cindy Paulsen is now married with three children, and this is the first time she has told her story.