"The Frolic" Short Film Reviewed

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Wonder Entertainment's adaption of Thomas Ligotti's first work ever put to film, "The Frolic," is an unsettling ride worthy of an early foray from the pages of the cerebral author. Though only twenty four minutes long, it will almost certainly go down in memory as not only the first movie based on Ligotti's work, but the first capable one as well. Like effective Lovecraftian films, it reflects the shortness of the story it follows, but also an accurate literary mood. And thankfully, Ligotti has already avoided a slew of sub-par movie adaptations with this production, unlike the many attempts at translating Lovecraft's tales into film.

The team of producers, writers, and directors (Jane Kelly Kosek, Thomas Ligotti and Brandon Trenz, and Jacob Cooney respectively) are careful to give the production an atmosphere faithful to the story. And they have certainly accomplished this. The selection of an abandoned hospital as the setting was a wise one, endowing the prison scenes with a moodiness impossible to replicate in an artificially constructed environment. Appropriate film making techniques bolster the atmosphere as well, especially in lighting. The pale flashlight of the prison guard making his nightly rounds through the darkened hallways, for instance, complements both setting and characters very well. Yet, no other feature is more important for pulling this off than the cast.

As Ligotti himself notes, "The Frolic" contains a good deal more normalcy than the rest of his oeuvre. Most importantly, it contains normal, relateable characters (and victims), which certainly helps with making this a successful piece of cinema. That said, the film, like the story, is most interesting in its focus on the bizarre, mysterious prisoner known only "John Doe." To convey this character sufficiently, as an eerie and demented sort of Peter Pan obsessed with his "frolics" with children, the film crew could not have picked a better actor. Maury Sterling's performance of John Doe is stunning. The performer's embellishing of John Doe with disturbing facial inflections and cryptically relaxed phrases about his fantasies gives additional substance to the headcase not observed in the story. This impressive performance, perhaps more than any other, goes a long way toward making this a freakishly enjoyable viewing experience, and a successful reflection of the hard weird embodied in Ligotti's work.

Michael Reilly Burke's role as Dr. Muncke, the disgruntled, but "normal" prison psychologist who is forced to interact with John Doe, is also convincing. Muncke's conversations with John Doe, revealed through a series of taped observations while the Good Doctor is writing a final report on Doe, are key moments in cultivating an appropriate atmosphere for the story. His dialog with John Doe is an intimate and fluid tool shining light on the deranged ideas and desires of the prisoner. At home, Dr. Muncke is accompanied by his wife, Leslie Muncke (played by Jennifer Aspen). The relationship between the two provides an artful pillar of normality, so important for the disruption by the bizarre and the sense of loss at the end. In the heartfelt banter between husband and wife, the viewer can readily feel Dr. Muncke's seeping desperation for a rapid escape from his job at the prison, John Doe, and the unwholesome oddity wrapped up in the affair. It is an almost flawless atmosphere of the weird and the mundane at odds.

"The Frolic" comes off as a well designed adaption of Ligotti's text. As with any filmed version of a written work, however, it isn't a perfect one. It almost feels as though the prison exchanges between John Doe and Dr. Muncke could have been a bit longer, leaving us with just a bit more to digest of Doe's fantasies and abilities, without wrecking his mysterious aura. Although "The Frolic" was an earlier work by Thomas Ligotti and did not carry the insidious, complex abstract horror he is known for in later pieces, there was one excellent opportunity missed to provide at least a nugget of this. The chilling note left by John Doe at the story's end, describing his romp through a twisted, creaking universe with his young victims, is notably absent. It's true a simple note in the film wouldn't have carried the power it does in the text, but it remains mildly disappointing to see the omission of a passage David Tibet (Current 93's lead artist and a friend of Ligotti's) called "the most apocalyptic" ever written in horror. Luckily, this may be remedied, if this version of "The Frolic" is expanded into a longer feature, as is tantalizingly hinted at by the producer Jane Kelly Kosek in the DVD's special features.

"The Frolic" is currently only available in a collector's edition for $35, or a version autographed by Thomas Ligotti for $45. While this may seem somewhat steep for a movie less than a half hour, the importance of this first Ligotti adaption to film cannot be understated. Additionally, the collector's edition features several nice extras: behind the scenes clips, commentary from movie makers, and a surprisingly long booklet. The latter contains a revised version of Ligotti's original tale, the screenplay, as well as an interview with Thomas Ligotti and Brandon Trenz, production photographs, and additional written commentary by the team. Presumably, a cheaper and more standard version of this short will be re-released in the near future, but afficianados of either Thomas Ligotti or weird horror would do well to treat themselves with this special edition.

-Grim Blogger

  © Blogger template Writer's Blog by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP