In He Said/She Said, critics Joe and Valeska dissect a film in a back and forth email exchange. Last time we fired Netflix’s The Babysitter. This time, we’re headed out to the woods with Frazier Park Recut. Spoilers ahead!
Synopsis: “Two aspiring filmmakers – Tyler (Tyler Schnabel) and Sam (Sam Hanover) document the mishaps of their first feature film, with the guidance of their eccentric lead actor Tom (David Lee Hess)”
I’ll confess that I was intrigued, but apprehensive, about checking out Frazier Park Recut at the Toronto Indie Horror Fest because it is a found footage film. I don’t have a ton of experience with horror films that adopt this format, so I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect. I’ve seen studio-level versions of this conceit in Unfriended (don’t scoff, it’s great!), Quarantine and Cloverfield, but I figured an independent film wouldn’t have the budget to pull off a glossy take on a low-budget conceit.
Ultimately Frazier Park Recut is much more reminiscent of canonical found footage horror film The Blair Witch Project. It doesn’t have the same kind of implied, atmospheric horror since it is more straight-forward than mysterious, but I was pleasantly shocked at how clever and well-executed the film ended up be.
One element that really won me over is how meta the film is. Anyone who has seen the overly jokey successors of Scream in the late 90s knows that self-awareness isn’t always a desirable trait for a horror film, but Frazier Park Recut glides over these issues with confidence. The central conceit of the film is that Tyler and Sam are making a movie, so it makes sense for them to film the proceedings, and for us to see the footage of the film that they’re shooting. Both the film that we’re watching and the slasher film Tyler and Sam are shooting may have the same low-budget, found footage aesthetic, but the latter serves as commentary on the former.
Tyler and Sam’s slasher film about a murderous groundskeeper who attacks his deceased love interest’s two adult sons is not only overly familiar; it’s derivative and dull. The footage of the film-within-a-film is emblematic of so many amateur (and arguably many studio) horror films that feature a generic murderer killing attractive actors but fail to bring something new to the table. And this is why including it is genius: the dull, derivative, familiar stands in stark contrast to the more innovative, experimental, interesting film we are watching.
In a lot of ways, Frazier Park Recut feels like a spiritual successor to Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, the incredibly creative revisionist horror film from 2006 which dared to portray a slasher film from the killer’s perspective. That film also featured first person interviews with a lovable psycho as he orchestrates a killing spree, positioning himself the creator of a dramatic exercise that just happens to carry a body count. Suddenly I’m in the mood for a double bill…
V, what are your overall impressions on Frazier Park Recut? Am I way off base in my assessment of the film’s cleverness? And how does this stack up in the annals of found-footage horror films, which I think you have a lot more experience with than me?
First of all, I’m glad that you also enjoyed Unfriended! I don’t care what anyone else says; I thought it was fresh and fun. There — I said it.
As for Frazier Park Recut, I agree with your comments regarding the juxtaposition between the derivative short that the filmmakers-within-the-film are making and the final product — the result was clever without being smug in the way that so many self-referential films can be. And, like you, I really appreciated the way that the plot accommodated the constant filming. You’re right, I’ve definitely dipped my feet into this section of the horror pool more often than you have and justifying the presence of the camera in any given scene is certainly one of the trickiest aspects of found footage as a sub-genre. It doesn’t matter how powerful the performances are if the filming doesn’t make sense for the story. As much as I enjoy Paranormal Activity 3, for example, there are entire sequences for which I cannot suspend my disbelief because the use of the camera makes no sense contextually. At no point during Frazier Park Recut did I feel skeptical about the camera use, which is very refreshing for a film of this type.
(Incidentally, Unfriended is another film that managed to pull this off, in my opinion. But I digress.)
Another reason I enjoyed the conceit of the film is that I have an interest in filmmaking. I found the ‘behind-the-scenes’ minutiae fascinating and honestly would have been fine with Frazier Park Recut just being a weird little documentary about an on-location prankster.
You compared the film to The Blair Witch Project, but I think Creep is a far more appropriate comparison. Both films deal with malevolent social engineering (Creep in a far less subtle way than Frazier Park Recut) and both feature charismatic psychopaths as antagonists. Both also traffic in themes of trust, particularly when it comes to those we’ve just met. Creep deals more overtly with gaslighting, but we definitely see some of that in Frazier Park Recut as well. Ultimately, it’s a film about relationships, and three is a pretty magical number if you want to build tension through manipulation. Lucky for us, the antagonist in this film is adept at creating discord. (I’m going to have to see Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon soon — it’s been on my list for a hot minute.)
I thought David Lee Hess was great in the role of Tom; unassuming, charming, and unsettling by turns. I was so pleased when his character won the audition because I thought he had a great presence from his first moments on screen. I think the film works as well as it does because his performance is so restrained — it could easily have become overly parodic in the wrong hands. Joe, what did you think of the performances?
Stop teasing me with references to Creep! You know that’s been on my watch list forever, too!
Interestingly I had a different opinion of Hess, at least initially. I thought that his audition reel was hammy and over the top and it wasn’t until he, Tyler and Sam relaxed at the cabin that he slipped into a carefully modulated performance that toggled between bemused and mildly ominous. By the time that Tom’s duplicitous motivations are revealed, I was fully invested in Hess’ performance and far more appreciative of how that initial audition was a caricature; a show for the boys’ – and by extension our – benefit.
Of course, my initial reaction may also have been jaded because of the presence of character actor JR Bourne (MTV’s Teen Wolf among other things), who I fully expected to win the role because he’s the only recognizable actor in the bunch.
As the unknowing dupes of Tom’s machinations, I thought that directors/writers Schnabel and Hanover handled themselves surprisingly well. Their roles are far less showy than Tom’s, but they still have to maintain our sympathies and give us someone to cheer for and they do that well. I thought that the best part of their performances was the camaraderie: the friendship felt believably lived in and authentic (possibly a benefit of having the pair actually create the film together and go through much of what occurs in the film in real life). It reminded me a lot of the relationship between the brothers in The Endless, another independent horror film you and I both enjoyed from either this year (my review / V’s review).
So all together, I’d give Frazier Park Recut an 8/10. V, what’s your score?
I’d give it a 7.5/10. Thanks for suggesting that we see it; it was a nice little gem to stumble on at a neat little festival. Next time, the doughnut is on me!
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