Laine (Jocelin Donahue) is on the run from the authorities and on her way out of the desert she gets a flat tire. Conveniently, she breaks down near an old motel and diner, occupied by Luanna (Kelly Lynch), the owner of the establishments. Somehow, Laine manages to get a job working there and comes across an array of guests including a gruffy man named Lee (Jim Beaver), an odd wealthy couple (Jamie Harris & Izabella Miko), and mysterious young man (Liam Aiken), and a Sheriff who smells something funny (AJ Bowen). Mystery is in the air and everybody is hiding something.
The Frontier is not a throwback film, as many would call it, but a straightforward approach to filming a movie that takes place in an earlier decade. Somewhere between pulp and noir, The Frontier looks and feels like a film you would have seen in the late 70’s and the aesthetic is absolutely brilliant. Sitting in the theater watching this film felt like a trip back in time to an age where films like this still existed and the stories weren’t nearly as convoluted. It has some flaws, but is an incredibly enjoyable and uniquely different time at the movies.
Talking briefly with director Oren Shai, he described his film as an expression of the film which he watched growing up. These days, any film that takes on a certain film genre or period is always described as a period piece or throwback, but that’s not really the case her. Shai creates the world of this film with two set pieces and a desert, filming the movie as if he was using a camera from the 70’s. The feel of the movie is brilliant and his characters all reflect old Hollywood celebrities who are past their prime and are now involved in a robbery. The static on the screen, the red sunset, and the clothing are just the icing on the cake of a film that looks and feels like it’s from the past.
Jocelin Donahue is an absolute pleasure to watch on-screen, as she shifts from this mysterious nice woman into a character you never truly understand. Her motives are her own and she’s constantly adapting to the questionable characters she’s running into. Donahue and Lynch share some great chemistry, sticking up for one another in a place where men think they run everything. Izabella Miko portrays the helpless woman motivated by money and kills it with her performance, calling back to the decades of women who played similar roles. The women aren’t afraid to be tough, but that doesn’t mean the men won’t shy away from them.
Jim Beaver plays the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the film, asserting his dominance and making his presence known by any and all who enter the diner. He’s not afraid to strike a woman if she’s getting in his way and he puts fear into their eyes, as well as the audience. Jamie Harris’ Errol Flynn-esque character (also named Flynn) delivers laughs aplenty and an older (but younger) Hollywood heart-throb who thinks his charm will get him everything. Liam Aiken isn’t around long, but his mistrust of everyone around him makes him a wild card that you like. AJ Bowen also has a role which sees him take on a more serious sheriff who smells trouble in town.
If anything, The Frontier does take a little while to get going and even though it’s not a terribly long film, it does seem to feel like it’s longer than 88-minutes. The characters being portrayed are all really interesting in their own rights, but we only get some back-story on Laine and I believe that learning more about everyone else in the film would have added some more intrigue to the film. Much is eluded in the film through various forms of communication and seeing what we hear all about would also have been a stylistic approach that may have added some juice to the film. These are minor complaints, however, about a film that plays out like many in the 70’s did. Whether or not you like this film may depend on your appreciation for older films.
The Frontier surprised me in an instant with its older look and feel, but it was a welcomed surprise as the story went along. There’s a lot of mystery and intrigue surrounding this motel/diner and its guests/patrons and everything is not what it seems. We don’t even know much about Danahue’s character, but time tells all and this film grows increasingly more fun as the mysteries are unraveled. I strongly believe that we need more film-mkaers like Shai, who harken back to films from decades ago and have a passion to make films just like them. They don’t have to be meta, they just demand that the audience treat them the way they were intended to be filmed.
The Frontier Trailer