"Freeze Frame" is a mystery viewed through Big Brother surveillance technology and executed in the style of early David Fincher. Story of an unjustly accused murder suspect who videotapes himself around the clock to establish an alibi may be too one-note for commercial impact. But it signals a talented newcomer in writer-director John Simpson and boasts a gripping performance from Brit comedian Lee Evans.

An uncompromisingly dark psycho-thriller that revels in its gritty textures and paranoid atmosphere, “Freeze Frame” is a hard-edged mystery viewed through creepy Big Brother surveillance technology and executed in the style of early David Fincher. Story of an unjustly accused murder suspect who videotapes himself around the clock to establish a permanent alibi may be too oppressively one-note for wide commercial impact. But it signals a talented newcomer in writer-director John Simpson and boasts a gripping central performance from popular British comedian Lee Evans.

Sean Veil (Evans) was pushed to the edge after his arrest, trial by tabloid and near conviction for the triple homicide of a mother and her twin daughters in 1993. As the 10th anniversary of the still-unsolved crime approaches, Sean’s mental stability is compromised even further.

Living in an industrial basement space kitted out with cameras to record his every move in case police should try to pin another killing on him, Sean wears surgical gloves and shaves his head and body hair to avoid leaving identifi-able traces of himself and straps a “self-cam” to his chest when he ventures outside. His state of stuttering, semi-delusional anxiety is fueled by constant self-analysis that questions the level of his paranoia and ability to reason.

The publication of a book by expert forensics profiler Saul Seger (Ian McNeice) about Britain’s unapprehended killers puts the spotlight back on Sean. Moreover, Sean’s old nemesis Detective Emeric (Sean McGinley) is terminally ill and determined to put him behind bars before he diesEmeric’s colleague Mountjoy (Colin Salmon) is no less ruthless in his pursuit of Sean, while TV crime reporter Katie Carter (Rachael Stirling) also begins snooping around for an anniversary special on the killings.

When the body surfaces of a woman murdered in 1998, Sean becomes a suspect. His paranoia proves justified when tapes of the period in question go missing, calling for even more elaborate means to demonstrate his innocence.

In addition to channeling Fincher, there’s a hint of the pessimism, dislocation and mental disintegration of vintage Roman Polanski in Simpson’s taut thriller, which makes crafty use of video technology to create a coldly atmospheric, grungy nightmarish world. Mark Garrett’s widescreen lensing mixes Hi-Definition cam-eras with DV, mini-DV, Digi-Beta, Beta-SP, Super 8, VHS and 35mm still photography to construct a labyrinthine visual field. This is enhanced by a dense soundtrack that includes Debbie Wiseman’s robust orchestral score, and by Simon Thorne’s sharp editing, full of sudden shifts between cameras and formats and into multiple-cam split screen.

Evans’ intensity and unremit-ting despair give the film a nerv-ous, dynamic motor. Other charac-ters are only marginally less obsessive in their respective missions, lifting them beyond being standard stock figures familiar from Brit TV Scotland Yard dramas.

Freeze Frame

U.K.-Ireland

Production

A UIP release (U.K.) of a Universal Studios presentation in association with the Irish film Board, Northern Ireland Film & Television Commission of a Parallel World Prods., Wildfire Films production. Produced by Michael Casey. Executive producers, Martha O'Neill, Brendan McCarthy. Directed, written by John Simpson.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Mark Garrett; editor, Simon Thorne; music, Debbie Wiseman; production designer, Ashleigh Jeffers; art director, Gillian Devenney; costume designer, Maggie Donnelly; sound (Dolby Digital), Mervyn Moore; sound designer, Nicky Moss; associate producers, Stephen Stewart, Mark Thomas, Bill Stephens, Daria Jovicic; assistant director, Karen Richards. Reviewed at Magno screening room, New York, April 29, 2004. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Sean Veil - Lee Evans Emeric - Sean McGinley Saul Seger - Ian McNeice Mountjoy - Colin Salmon Katie Carter - Rachael Stirling Mary Shaw - Rachel O'Riordan

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