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May 5, 2011

Movie Review: The Frolic (2007)

by Greg Goodsell

An adaptation of the Thomas Ligotti short story, "The Frolic" is a short film that cast a very particular spell over this reviewer. Settling down to watch it, I stopped hearing and watching the film, only to return to consciousness once the end titles began rolling. It was very similar to the same physical phenomena I experience when I lay down in a bed at night and inexplicably find myself in the same bed the following morning.

Buy The Frolic on DVD!

Watching "The Frolic" a second time, this bizarre physical manifestation began to assert itself once again. Downing some energy drinks, I made it all the way through its 22-minute running time, and began to analyze why this film out of all others made me react this way.

The story was an all-too conventional one. A psychiatrist (Michael Reilly Burke) is resigning from his position after spending 10 years studying a smirking child killer, known only as “John Doe” (Maury Sterling). Hoping to put the wearying years of spending a great deal of time with the smug nutbag, the good doctor returns to his wife (Jennifer Aspen) and tow-headed daughter (Kailey Swanson) -- only to discover he has sadly underestimated his patient.

The actors, while good, speak in whispers, as people would in a public library. The spectrum scheme is all in faded pastels, with the killer's bright orange jumpsuit the sole concession to color. The sets likewise are minimal and devoid of décor.

There is also the overriding problem that for a horror film, “The Frolic” contains little to no horror. The psychiatrist spots the killer in his rearview mirror in a cliché shock cut is the only “gotcha” moment. The film's "big shock twist conclusion" likewise has the characters only expressing mild annoyance.

Chief among the culprits is “The Frolic’s” musical score by Steven L. King, whose noodling undercurrents have a soporific effect. King’s score goes beyond “New Age” ambience, to the monotonous hum one hears in the background to “How to Stop Smoking” self-hypnosis tapes.

Thomas Ligotti has been a longtime fixture on the horror fiction scene, and “The Frolic” is the first-ever adaptation of one of his works. Methinks it will be a while before his work is adapted to the screen, if the short story for this film is any indication of his work.

“The Frolic” comes with a booklet including the story and screenplay. The DVD comes with a commentary track and making of documentary.

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