SXSW Film Review: The Frontier

Retro-neo-noir blends all the pulp eras

After a century of chronicling betrayals and greed, noir has been invented and re-invented a thousand times. But in its twisted soul, it is always about bad people doing bad things.

Things get bloody for Jocelin Donahue at The Frontier

The Frontier is a welcome reunion of The House of the Devil costars Jocelin Donahue and AJ Bowen. She's Laine, running from some unseen crime. He's Gault, a small town cop. Both cautiously move around each other, suspicious but intrigued. Their paths cross in a dusty motel, the titular Frontier, where a coterie of drifters and losers try too hard to pretend they are strangers. The other players in this strange game are all clearly up to some deception. But unblinking Laine sees all, as everyone else dozes through their downfall.

Donahue and Bowen are effortlessly untrusting, spelling out their characters' inherent and well-placed wariness through guarded questions and telling silences. By contrast, the other characters – Kelly Lynch as a fallen Hollywood starlet, Izabella Miko as a kewpie doll gangster's moll, and Jim Beaver as a surly bully with a short fuse – seem almost cartoonish in their greedy machinations. The effect is initially jarring, but director Oren Shai steadily builds a timeless pulp world, one that purloins from 30s seedy gangsters, 50s greasers, and 70s slick crime. Add up all those eras, and you get something close to the stylized 1990s neonoir of Red Rock West, where the dust on the ground is just there to soak up the blood.

The Frontier

Narrative Spotlight, World Premiere
Tuesday, March 17, 6:00pm, Violet Crown
Wednesday, March 18, 7:45pm, Lamar

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