film review

Film Review: Fray (2012)


Fray is a small indie film that was released only recently after premiering back in 2012. Directed by Geoff Ryan, this is his feature debut – following up his short Pour from 2009 that dealt with similar subject matter and also featured Bryan Kaplan in the lead role.

I’m pretty hesitant at watching super small indies because often (at least in my experiences with them) they have ambition but the execution leaves far too much to be desired. Too many films have pissed me off so I went into Fray with a sense of trepidation but was pleasantly surprised by what I witnessed.

Fray is the story of Justin, a Marine who has recently returned from Iraq & Afghanistan. He currently resides in a small town in Oregon working for a lumber mill, attending community college, and attempting to treat his injured knee. His attitude, while friendly and for the most part genial, only covers up the trauma and regrets that he has returned with.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 9.12.10 AMNow it has to be said that this is not a completely original premise. Anyone who has watched any number of indie films (and even mainstream films – see last year’s big hit American Sniper) has seen this kind of story before. Even with Ryan’s effort to shine a light on returning soldiers who wind up homeless, this aspect doesn’t enter into the story until more than half-way through it’s running time. Up until that point what he and Kaplan attempt to paint for the audience is a portrait of a man who, even with the love and support of those around him (friends, co-workers, etc.) just can’t re-connect to the world around him.

The direction, for the most part, is actually quite well done. There’s a real sense of mood and tension throughout the piece that is really the film’s biggest asset. As I said above, film fans have seen this kind of story done many times at this point, so what does another low-budget indie have to bring to the table that other films haven’t already. The Oregon location is very well suited to the film, helping to embody that isolated tone of Justin. That mood and atmosphere is really what kept me interested and intrigued throughout.

The cinematography, at it’s best, is when it’s restrained. Some of the handheld shots are a bit messy (as tends to be the case with indie films of this nature), but when the camera is still and the action is allowed to just happen in that frame, we get some of the best (looking) moments in the film. The darker color palate is also well done as well – once again helping to establish that isolated atmosphere I just touched on above. It’s cold and wet feeling, which is to the film’s benefit.

If I’m being honest, I found some of the dialogue sounding either forced or a bit too obvious for my personal taste. Some scenes just came across too obvious what was trying to be conveyed – the classroom scenes being probably the biggest instance of this. And while Kaplan and Marisa Costa (who plays Cheri) definitely put in very good performances, the dialogue does them no favors, especially when they’re together and have to say some very contrived lines. It’s the quiet moments where there’s almost no dialogue that I thought the film worked the best.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 9.49.18 AMBut really, most of the performances in here are pretty good, with the two I just mentioned above being the clear leads/highlights. While the screenplay does move towards melodrama in it’s final third, Kaplan sells it with conviction and honesty. It’s an open performance that slowly reveals itself as the film progresses. But Costa, I think, is the film’s real MVP. As I said, she is given some rather clunky lines to say, but with her limited screen time, she brings a vulnerability to her character which very well could have been a one dimensional girlfriend role (though I do have to question a teacher actually following through in a relationship with a student, no matter how close they are in actual age, I can’t imagine the actual school being ok with that happening and I don’t understand how she expected to grade him fairly if they’re together?). There’s an underlying sadness to her character even before the final third comes around. Even Justin’s boss is very well cast and acted (by Wesley W. Harris).

Fray won several awards but it wasn’t until I was looking through new releases that I stumbled across it and I’m glad that I did. I don’t know if it just wasn’t promoted that greatly or if sat on a shelf for a few years or what but now that this is out it’s a film that I do think is worthy of a watch. It’s certainly not perfect but shows Ryan as a director to watch and some actors who are definitely worth keeping an eye on (and hopefully being cast in more roles).

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One thought on “Film Review: Fray (2012)

  1. Wanted to say thank you for taking the time to watch and write a review about my film Fray. There has been recent spike in interest for the film and I was putting together some clippings from past reviews for a press release when I stumbled across yours. It’s still so exciting to find such positive reviews coming out so long after this little “no-budget” movie came out. I honestly didn’t think it would ever be seen beyond maybe a few bored people on Youtube watching it for a few minutes before moving along to something more entertaining like cat videos. 🙂

    To answer your curiosity about why it took a few years for the film to come out and why it’s hard to find: The film was totally self-financed so after I blew through all my savings and went into debt shooting it, it took two years to get it completed. Then, the festival cycle took another year and the search for a good distributor another year. I finally settled on Indie Rights, a very small distributor, because they were passionate about the film despite it’s lack of name actors and other elements that result in any possibility of profits. They’ve been amazing at getting the film on so many platforms and even on DVD in stores but their small scale (and my lack of funds and worse social media savvy) meant the entirety of promotion was through word-of-mouth, articles like yours, and random chance.

    After three years of release it’s finally finding an audience and doing pretty well. It’s even been ranked in the top 30 “War & Military” films on Amazon recently!

    As for the people behind the film: Jarin Blaschke (the cinematographer and childhood friend of mine) has exploded on the scene lately after the success of “The Witch” which he shot (and Jodi Redmond from Fray produced). Bryan Kaplan was played the lead in another feature shortly after Fray premiered but that one has been languishing in post-production for a while now and not much else has cropped up for him. I recently had drinks with Marisa Costa and she’s had a few small roles but nothing substantial. And, for me, I’ve still been working off those debts and trying to get the next film made. I recently signed on to direct a film in development about the Oklahoma City bombing. It’s an exciting and very powerful project but still really early on so well see if it happens. Here’s a bit of press we’ve already gotten:

    Again, thanks so much for getting over that “trepidation” and giving Fray a shot. Knowing this film is still reaching people and touching them on some heartfelt level keeps us all motivated to continue in this crazy and unforgiving industry.

    All the best,
    Geoff Ryan


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