AUGUST 25, 2009
Before I begin my Frayed review proper, I must apologize to actress Tasha Smith-Floe. At some point during the film, I made a joke that the only reason she was in the movie was due to her slight resemblance to Megan Fox. But later I discovered that the film was shot in 2005, long before Fox had taken over our national media. So, Ms. Smith-Floe: my bad. And you’re nowhere near as annoying as that waste of flashbulbs.
Anyway, Frayed is a pretty damn good movie, but it comes with a caveat. At this point I will be spoiling the ending, so please stop reading if you haven’t seen the film yet. Just check out the film, then come back and see if you agree with my assessment.
Still there? OK. Spoilers begin now.
Frayed makes a great example for why folks shouldn’t watch as many horror movies as I do. Had I not been overdosed on so many slashers and psychological thrillers and such, I might not have noticed the telltale signs of a “big twist”. The setup doesn’t seem to lend itself to such things; it’s a fairly standard slasher plot, right down to the escaped mental patient and kids camping in the woods. But if you know all these movies as well as the filmmakers obviously do, you’re probably going to instantly wonder why we’re following a hospital security guard who was attacked by the killer instead of the kids in the woods, and why all of the flashbacks to the killer show him as a child and never as an adult, and also why so many kills occur off-screen. Yes, the guard is actually the killer, and the killer in a clown mask is just his High Tension-esque hallucination. It’s a great twist, and for the most part they do it without cheating (the two “fight” on a couple occasions), but again, it’s a bit too easy to spot if you’ve seen those movies. Hell, even someone with enough exposure to slasher films will probably start to question why so many kills are occurring out of the sight of our Final Girl.
Other than that (and a bit of a length issue - 110 minutes? Really?), it’s one of the best slashers I’ve seen in quite a while. The opening scene is one of the best horror openers in recent memory, and the film as a whole favors suspense and atmosphere over a body count. I do not make kind comparisons to Halloween easily (i.e. usually it's "Fuck you for ripping off Halloween!"), but for the most part I’d be comfortable with making that association here. Had I spent another half hour or so completely buying into the ruse (I figured it out 15 minutes in), I’d probably have liked it even more. But in a way that’s even more of a compliment to the film - I wasn’t buying half of what they were showing me, but I was still engaged by it.
I also loved the killer’s look. Finally, a killer clown that’s not a complete letdown! The mask looks like it was made from a pillowcase and a mop, but it works in a demented, low-key way, and gave me slight Clownhouse flashbacks (good, suspenseful parts, not weird, pedophilic parts) to boot. After Final Draft, Fear Of Clowns, Amusement, etc, I had begun to give up hope that I would ever enjoy a killer clown movie.
Another thing that worked in the film’s favor was the realistic portrayal of the Final Girl. She smokes, she (lightly) drinks, and she at least plans to have sex. Despite the heavy Halloween influence, she is not a mousy Laurie Strode type - she’s a good, but NORMAL kid. Her friend (Smith-Floe) is the traditional “wild girl” best friend, but again, in a normal way. So many modern slasher movies paint their characters as total extremes (My Bloody Valentine’s women, for example), so it’s nice to see two girls that are largely believable. Kudos to whichever writer (the film boasts a positively Dwight Littleian FIVE credited screenwriters, including directors Rob Portmann and Norbert Caoili) was responsible for the characterizations.
And for a first time film from the team, it’s quite impressive on a technical level. I don’t quite understand the technical aspects, but it sounds like they put film lenses on HD cameras, resulting in a look that costs little but looks far better than most digital shoots. Only the inherent difference in capturing motion betrays the digital source; if you pause it at any point you will swear it’s film. And apart from the flashbacks to a certain photo (I’m not going to spoil EVERYTHING) that the killer keeps having, the editing is refreshingly old-school as well. Long takes, no avid farts, no hyper-edited action scenes where you can’t tell what the hell is going on... good stuff. I just wish they cut down on the photo scenes; not only DO they suffer from post-MTV editing, but they also tip off the twist that you shouldn’t be expecting anyway. Cutting a few out (or all but one, just to set it up) would have worked wonders.
While many recent Lionsgate DVDs have been unusually slim with extras, this one delivers the goods. An enjoyable commentary with the filmmakers is worth a listen, they point out little hints that I had missed, which is always fun. They also bring up “Quitter” socks, based on the HBO special from behind the scenes of Lethal Weapon 2 where Chevy Chase and Mel Gibson complained about the quality of socks Warner Bros was giving them, a gag I always had an affinity for. Then a trio of featurettes detail the production and effects work - not really in-depth, but well constructed nonetheless. Then there’s the trailer for it and a reel of other LG releases, which is thankfully short (only four trailers!). The transfer is quite good as well.
Not sure why they’ve been sitting on this one for so long (last week’s Cravings was a few years old too), but I’m glad they picked it up and gave it a respectable release. I’m guessing most folks WON’T be able to spot the twist so early (if at all) and will enjoy being duped, the way I was with some of the twist films it reminded me of (such as Alone In The Dark) that I saw before I became such a pain in the ass. Recommended!
(And Lionsgate - will you add me to your screener list already? Damn. I see no quotes on the cover; you could have had “One of the best slashers in years!” on there!)
What say you?