★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
A toe-curling and stomach-churning parable about the addictive power of viral media.
Directed by Marc Martinez Jordan
There, but by the grace of God go we all. Framed warns us all about the potential trap that viral media is. How we succumb to wanting people to like our posts, be they tweets, Facebook rants, viral videos, or… let’s say… movie review blog posts! It becomes so seductive to get “likes” that we are willing to do most anything. In the case of the Scariest Things, it’s plugging the Facebook boost meter to get your attention. Some people will post a political tweet to garner a response, to get some love. For someone else, it might be posting naked pictures of yourself online. (c’mon, you know who you are!) SAY something outrageous! DO something outrageous! And for the demented antagonists of the Spanish film Framed, they create torture and snuff films live to get the attention of millions. Yep, that qualifies as outrageous. And, in what could be a scene from a couple years in the future… the internet and news media are helpless to prevent this from happening, or worse yet, enable and encourage these despicable acts.
The story revolves around Alex, (Joe Manjon) who is having a farewell party hosted by one of his friends in a swanky Barcelona estate. His friends are all wrapped up in a new phone app that allows a fully uncensored feed to let people video stream extreme content, in a competition to drive up viewership. After a bit of initial silly jump-scare fun and games trying to become the next big internet sensation, the friendly celebratory gathering gets flipped as three masked strangers barge in on the group and begin stalking, tormenting, and torturing them as their video feed explodes with viewers tuning in to watch the horrible carnage. Snuff films are the new black, apparently. It isn’t well developed as to why these creeps happened to target this particular gathering, but it was clear from a bumper scene at the beginning that these assailants select their prey… so if I dare watch this again, I would like to figure out why they picked this home.
Alex Maruny turns in a wild-eyed flamboyant villain role, and the screen crackles with life whenever he’s on. He’s the type of an actor you can’t take your eyes off of… and yet… there are so many times when you want to look away. This movie wanders into Hostel level depravity and cruelty, and it features lots of Purge cat-and-mouse home invasion action. So it has a certain familiarity, with a little Catalan twist. You get the feeling you’ve seen this film before, but that this one does it just a little better. The entire cast of young Spaniards is engaging and likable, adding to the impact of seeing these kids getting set upon. To reinforce my rule #1, a good horror movie will make you sympathize with the protagonists, and Framed succeeds in creating that empathetic bond between audience and character.
Framed is a movie that you endure. It is technically an excellent film. For a miniscule budgeted production, Jordan managed to squeeze every ounce of juice out of his budget that he could. The lighting of this film was highly evocative and used the full prismatic spectrum. The gore effects were hugely convincing, And there is a LOT of gore. I won’t say that I enjoyed myself in this film, though, as I left the theater exhausted. The comedy, when used, was punchy and effective. I also completely got the social commentary Jordan was going with this, and it is far superior about getting its point across about the folly and danger of viral media than the similarly minded films Unfriended, Diary of the Dead, and Screamers.
However, there were some elements of the film that felt a little clunky, and as Jordan’s first feature film, some of this is understandable. I thought that the dim-witted lackeys working with Maruny were a bit too cartoonish, and they were in it as a bit of padding. I also found myself getting angry at the media in this film for showing the footage of the snuff film in progress… but I guess that was the whole point. The three female protagonists were indistinct from each other; they all looked similar and had similar behavioral tendencies. Is that the sister? Or is that the girlfriend. Oh, wait, no, that’s the homeowner. Got it!
So, for me, this a bit of a trick to give a proper evaluation. As a horror film, it really does its job. It horrifies. It has a ton of merit. As Brian Callahan, the organizer of the Portland Horror Film Festival told me, this is a movie that looks like it has a much bigger budget that it actually had. It is better looking, better paced, and more exciting than most of its low-budget siblings. Signs of big things to come from Mr. Jordan. (And probably Mr. Maruny as well.) This is absolutely NOT a gateway film, but for those of you who like your scary movies with an extra helping of circular saw and sadism, this may be one you will love! In the end, though, it made me feel bad. Torture-porn… not really my bag. So there you go. I recommend you see it, with a ton of caveats and warnings.
Framed is not rated. It would probably be a strong candidate for an NC-17, should it attempt to get an MPAA rating, there are a couple of really rough moments. Framed has been in limited release on the film circuit for a year or so now. Keep an eye on your streaming selections for it to come out soon.