Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Frayed (2009)

Frayed is an independent production from Washington State made by three lifelong friends with a dream of making a movie together. Though the film’s premise might sound like a typical slasher (and the film’s DVD cover certainly does it no justice), as the story progresses it offer much more than the typical stalk and slash movie. Frayed manages to transcend and discard genre conventions and delivers a film with an unexpected, shocking ending. It also manages to overcome the obstacle of a low budget and delivers a polished, professional-looking film that is sure to get tongues a-waggin’ in the horror community.

The film opens on a home video of young Sara’s fifth birthday party, complete with balloons, presents, cake and even a clown. Sarah couldn’t be happier, until her eight-year-old brother Kurt ruins her big day by being overly aggressive. Kurt is sent upstairs to his room and Mom comes in after the party, still toting the video camera, to see if he is ready to apologize to Sara. Suddenly, the video camera drops to the ground and we see Mom also violently fall…and then she is brutally beaten to a pulp by a baseball bat.

Kurt is sent to a mental institution for killing his mother, but enters into a catatonic state and won’t speak to anyone. The doctors say he has a disassociate personality disorder and can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. His father, Pat (Tony Doupe), who also happens to be the small town’s sheriff, checks in on him regularly but after several years the doctors tell him they can do no more for Kurt and suggest he is moved to another facility. Meanwhile, sister Sara (Alena Dashiell) and step-mother Jolene (Kellee Bradley) have moved on and rarely talk about Kurt or the past.

On the night Kurt is scheduled to be transferred to a more secure institution, he escapes and starts brutally killing people again. As Pat and a lone security guard named Gary (Aaron Blakely) try to track down Kurt, it becomes clear that no one can stop him from reuniting with the family that has forsaken him while facing some very dark family demons.

When I first sat down to watch Frayed, I really wasn’t expecting much. It looked like your typical slasher so I prepared to turn my brain off and just let the mayhem ensue. It started with a bang (the mom’s death scene definitely lives up to the hype of “one of the most brutally graphic scenes ever depicted on film”, especially considering this in an indie effort), but soon I found myself thinking that the storyline was too similar to Halloween. A child killer that grows up in a mental institution but escapes to wreak havoc on his estranged family was a bit too reminiscent of the iconic Michael Myers for me. As the film progressed, though, it became more its own film, with plenty of inventive twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat.

Despite the initial shocking bludgeoning death of the mother in the film’s opening scenes, Frayed is a lot less gory and bloody than most modern slashers. Instead, it focuses on the psychological terror of a killer that’s hot on the victim’s heels, much like the “old school” slashers back in the day. I really loved the crazy clown costume Kurt wears as he stalks his victims and how it ties back to the tragedy he experienced as a child. There is a lot of suspense and tension throughout Frayed, something you don’t usually see a lot of in the “modern slasher”. I liked how it relied more on dread and really built up the story and characters instead of just focusing on blood and guts.

The actors all did a surprisingly good job with each of their characters. The real star was Aaron Blakely as Gary the security guard. We keep cheering him on as he escapes time and time again from Kurt. I also liked Tony Doupe’s multi-layered performance as Sheriff Pat and Tasha Smith-Floe plays Sara’s sassy friend Veronica vivaciously! The rest of the cast were great as well, which is surprising considering this was a low budget film. Despite the low budget, impressive performances were found in both the leads as well as supporting actors!

Another amazing aspect of the film is that despite its low budget it looks like it belongs up on the big screen! The film was shot digitally, but looks like it was filmed in 35mm, the sound is crisp and never muffled and even though the majority of the film is set at night, you can always tell what is going on. Frayed is the first feature film for lifelong friends Rob Portmann (co-writer/co-director), Kurt Svennungsen (co-writer) and Norbert Caoili (co-writer/co-director) and together they have truly created a film that raises the bar for all independent productions to come.

Not only does the film look like a big budget production (excellent makeup effects, seamless special effects using CGI, and even an impressive car crash scene), but the story also goes far and beyond what most horror films strive for. Though it starts off a bit shaky and feels like another “reimaging” of Halloween, the story actually builds as the film progresses and gets more and more complex, a rarity in horror films today. You might be able to guess the twist ending if you pay close enough attention, but nothing will prepare you for the second twist that will completely blindside you and leave you shocked! The tragic ending just goes to show that in real life there is no tidy wrap-up and the innocent victims aren’t always avenged.

Frayed is an impressive independent film that offers much more than it first suggests. Though it looks polished and professional like a big budget film, the filmmakers took time to make sure Frayed had a well-developed and intriguing story, one whose horror will stick with you long after watching. With this as their big splash in the blood-filled horror pool, I can’t see what Portmann, Svennungsen and Caoili do next!

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