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.
Now 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.
But 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).