Where the phrase “indie film” used to stand for the cinema that Hollywood was too hesitant to make, today’s “everyone’s a filmmaker” progressiveness has diluted the indie world’s edge and charm. But in watching Frequencies, the third feature from writer/director/editor/producer Darren Paul Fisher, I could not conjure up a better way to describe the conceptual sci-fi grandeur behind this somewhat simple tale of romance, friendship, and discoveries. Frequencies is an indie film through and through, but one that feels foundational rather than derivative. Proof that a little sci-fi can make anything better.
The frequencies at the heart of Frequencies are individuals’ innate levels of luck and fate, sort of like an IQ that doesn’t just measure intelligence. People with alike frequencies are compatible, while those with vastly different ones can actually bring about destruction if they are around each other for too long. It’s quite a unique approach to class and society that doesn’t rely on gimmicks.
Enter Marie, whom we meet as a grade-schooler (Lily Laight), a teen (Georgina Minter-Brown), and a twentysomething (Eleanor Wyld). Her exorbitantly high frequency number means her life is pretty much set in perfect stone, but it comes with the price of having no true emotions and desires, which could obviously disrupt objective perfection. She becomes the faux-smiling object of affection for Zak , played by Charlie Rixon, Dylan Llwewllyn, and Daniel Fraser in ascending age order. His beyond-dismal frequency number means he’s a walking disaster, and it’s impossible for him to be around Marie for longer than a minute without putting anyone nearby in certain peril.
These mini-meetings, which Marie uses as experiments, drive Zak to figure out a way to extend their time together. This eventually happens, sort of, with the help of his childhood friend Theo (Owen Pugh). But if Zak is able to mess with his own frequency, what ramifications would that have on the rest of the world? Luckily, Fisher doesn’t try to answer that question, although he does allow the film’s scope to broaden abruptly in the third act, where the story remains interesting and conspiratorial but feels disconnected from the relationship and the focus of the first two acts.
While Frequencies doesn’t make a great case for why Zak wants to be with Marie, other than fancying her gorgeousness, I can freely cop to being inexplicably enamored by someone without rhyme or reason. The film’s fractured and looping structure, though repetitive, does a fine job of bookending the story in a way that doesn’t invite viewers to question every single way they’re having to suspend disbelief to feel for these characters. Even if I didn’t so much care whether or not Zak and Marie were destined to be together, I was interested in and ultimately pleased by their twisted paths to resolution.
And because there isn’t one giant climax to build up to, many of Frequencies‘ pleasures come from smaller details, like characters named after famed scientists. (Marie Curie and Isaac “Zak” Newton, among others.) Or the moments where Fisher just lets a scene sit on Marie practicing her smile and “interested face.” Or the mild bits of destruction when Zak has stuck around Marie too long. Not to mention enjoyable supporting roles from Timothy Block, David Barnaby, David Broughton-Davies, and more.
As subdued as the recent British sci-fi romance Dimensions, Frequencies offers up a character study of two (or maybe three) people for whom character is only a small part of their humanity. It delivers a peek into a universe where life is governed by baffling physics and a very specific set of rules. As the latest in a short line of sci-fi romances, Frequencies tells a story that’s impossible to replicate. And it has nothing to do with luck.
Frequencies was released on May 23 and is now available to rent on VOD.