1996, NR, 83 min. Directed by Todd Verow. Starring Michael Gunther, Craig Chester, Parker Posey, James Lyons, Alexis Arquette, Raoul O'Connell, Jaie Laplante.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 12, 1996
This experimental film portrait of sadism, sexual compulsion, and murder based on the 1991 novel by Dennis Cooper has been sparking heated controversy and dividing audiences and fans of the New Queer Cinema. Extreme and uncompromising, Frisk sends some viewers racing for the exits, while others praise its raw depiction of gay sex and psychology in the post-AIDS era. Frisk begins as a series of composed letters about violent sexual fantasies from Dennis (Gunther) to his former lover Julian (Laplante). When they were together, the couple dabbled in the S&M underground. After Julian moved away, Dennis dabbled with Julian's kid brother Kevin (O'Connell). Dennis' fantasies gradually grow more violent. In his letters he recounts his teenage years as a devotee of gay porn and his obsession with some snuff photos that he was turned on to. Later, he meets the masochist (Chester) who posed for those photos and likewise becomes preoccupied with him. Eventually, Dennis' fantasies progress all the way into full-blown sex murders. During one escapade, he enlists the help of thrill seekers (Lyons and Posey), who educate Dennis in the finer arts of dead body disposal after shooting up their victim (Arquette) with heroin and engaging in some group sex. Surprisingly, this extremely low-budget production is rather demure about what it shows to the camera. Most of the violence is suggested and, for the most part, the sadistic acts occur off-screen or in the voiceover of the letters. It's clear that Frisk is trying to develop some ideas about sexuality and self-regard in our time of rampant cultural violence of all sorts. Signs of our moral wasteland are everywhere in Frisk; they intrude during the TV news and at the corner newsstand, and they're seen in mindlessly violent cartoons and movies that pass in the background. The movie seems to be arguing that our culture has anesthetized us to violence and physical pain and the only way for us to locate our feelings and desires is to increase the pain quotient and our acts of transgression. In this, Frisk belongs to a set of literature that includes the likes of the Marquis de Sade and Bret Easton Ellis. Yet, being able to glimpse a story's ambitions is not the same as seeing a story that lives up to its ambitions. Frisk is frequently muddled and unclear, and leaves great uncertainties about what thoughts it's trying to get across. When haziness is combined with such volatile material, the response is likely to be that of uncomfortable confusion, and at best passive indifference.