Reviewed by Jay Sizemore
Prepare to be manipulated and challenged by a film in ways unlike any you may have experienced while watching one. The independently made FRAMES, by debut writer/director Brandon Colvin, manages to use minimalism and clever nods to classic filmic influence, to create a work of art that manages to accomplish something most big budget Hollywood films only dream of: make a statement that matters. It is a multi-layered, complex film, and it might be difficult for some viewers, but it is worth the challenge, like any difficult puzzle, to see the entire work of art once it is all put together.
The narrative centers around the character Peter Farkas, and it is told entirely from his perspective, the world he sees through the frames of his prescription glasses. He and Vera, a female friend from his school, are making a documentary about their home town, White Creek, Wisconsin. There are some interesting elements from the start, as every time Peter flips on his camera to record, we see the world through the camera lens as Peter does. Vera doesn’t understand his concept for the documentary, and wants him to make her the star of the movie, while Peter thinks it is best to cut people completely out of his landscape shots. The movie starts taking a seemingly sinister twist, when, after meeting Vera’s father, in an awkward moment in her bedroom, she suddenly becomes less interested in the project, and then stops coming around altogether.
On the surface, to most viewers, it appears one thing is happening, when in reality, the director is proving something very cleverly about how humans view visual art. As you watch this, for instance, you are undoubtedly going to wonder at some point, “Why is every actor in this movie depressed? Are they robots?” This is a stylized and purposeful choice of the director, because it removes one of the key elements of storytelling from the medium: the emotional projection of the actors, allowing the experience to be more focused on the visual elements. The framing of each scene is meticulously arranged, using contrasting motifs of vertical and horizontal lines, for a nice aesthetic, and another possible nod to Hitchcock. Nearly zero music is used throughout the film, removing the traditional score that adds so much emotion to the traditional movie experience. When music does come into play, it is very Angelo Badalamenti-esque, with deep bass swells meant to instill dread to another manipulative effect, and a great nod to David Lynch. What ends up happening is, without the usual flair of acting, music and editing trickery used to reveal dramatic irony, the viewer is forced to project their own emotions and presuppositions onto the medium. As the story progresses, the viewer fills in the gaps, feeling what Peter feels, or what we think he should feel.
There are several scenes that reveal this intention, but I am going to focus on two of them. The first is the moment when Vera invites Peter inside her house while her father is away. There is nothing about the way the actors perform that indicates sexuality about this scene. From what we see, it is perfectly harmless. However, as viewers of traditional films – after being programmed to experience sexuality and anticipate it from all visual media, to want it from our own lives, being taught to objectify the opposite sex – watching this scene, one will naturally leap to the conclusion that it is charged with sexual tension. She invited him into her room. Her father is away. They sit together on the bed. But they are just having a conversation. They do not even hint at sexuality in their performances. If sexuality is perceived, it is all in the viewer’s mind, and also in the father’s mind when he accidentally barges in on them. This is just brilliant direction and execution.
The second, and arguably the most important scene of the film, takes place when Peter goes to Vera’s house after dark, and inadvertently ends up spying on her through her bedroom window. He records the moments that transpire, in a scene that deftly weaves together elements of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Rear Window, two films that had been previously mentioned. What occurs completely changes the tone of the movie, and alters Peter’s perspective on future events – the change in course symbolized by the fact that he breaks his glasses the next day, repairing them with white tape, showing us that the frames through which he sees his world have been permanently altered. It is also an example of how seeing visual elements without context can make a viewer leap to negative assumptions, and how harmless elements can be perceived as sexual. The viewer will automatically put the sexuality into the scene, because of nudity, and another element that I won’t mention here. Vera is also crying, but we don’t know why. It could be because her father had forbidden her to spend time with Peter. But ultimately we, and Peter later on, will reach a viler conclusion, leading us down a darker path, toward the film’s amazing climax.
The epilogue of the film connects all the puzzle pieces that we had seen arranged throughout. It chillingly shows us that Peter was prophesying what would happen to him through his own directorial choices from early on. The last shot we are shown of his glasses demonstrates to the viewer that if one allows one’s perception of their own world to be tainted, it can result in utter damnation — although even that interpretation is ambiguous, and based on my own feelings of what transpired in the narrative. The real ending becomes whatever the viewer perceives it to be.
This film is streaming for free online at No Budge. If you are interested, follow this link to view it and see if you agree with my analysis.
Jay Sizemore is a film critic for The Missing Slate. Read all about him here.