Inspired by her favourite comic book Frontier, a young girl decides to run away from home and live a solitary life of adventure in the woods. Before long her own reality begins to blend with that of the comic book in the short film ‘Frontier’.
It is possible to consider Frontier entirely as the story it seems to be, the story of a pre-pubescent girl escaping from her abusive and mundane lifestyle into a fantasy world of comic books and monsters, then once the fantasy becomes a nightmare returning home to deal with the consequences. It is simpler and easier to consider it on that level too because ‘Frontier’ is a lovely piece of storytelling that works on a number of different levels.
The film opens in an idyllic yet messily beautiful plain on the coast of South East USA where ‘Little’ played by the amazing Zoe Clarke lives with her dad the intimidating ‘Big’ Zadie Walker who channels an element of angry Billy Bob Thornton into his fine performance.
We glimpse moments in the lives of Big and Little. Little enjoys nature and catches insects while Big stays inside, scowls, drinks and shouts. In one telling moment that says everything about their relationship. ‘Big’ shouts at ‘Little’ to turn the TV off seconds after she has put it on and sends her to her room. She is forced to stay there because he is ‘entertaining’ a lady.
It is here where Little loses herself in her comic books and begins to think for herself and defy her father. In the next scene, the following morning Little has packed a bag, a tent a compass and snacks then calmly walks out of the house stepping over beer cans, the woman and avoids her passed out father’s outstretched hand. Her home has failed her so Little believes she has a better chance outside of it, she decides to take on the elements by running away and camping in the woods.
There is a lot going on in this 16 minute short, the audience sees Big as an intimidating bully and Little trapped by her fear so when Little decides to run away we are with her. We feel she is right to do so and cheer her as she wanders freely without the fear and containment of her home life. Then as we watch her struggle on the outside, making wrong decision after wrong decision we slowly come to realise that not only has she made a mistake but as responsible adults in the audience we too have been mistaken, swept up in the innocence and playfulness of this little girl. Little is far too young and naïve and in no way capable of looking after herself alone in this type of wild environment.
Chuck Klevens’ direction is very strong both symbolic and subtle as he surrounds these developments with scenes of nature, close-ups of caterpillars, crabs, vegetation and flowers bring to mind Terence Malick on more than one occasion. There is very little dialogue in ‘Frontier’ but Kleven is able to tell the story with images and has an ability to pick out little intricacies of light and shade to emphasise the emotions. His shot choices, particularly in the final junkyard scenes, are always surprising and never dull. Meanwhile, the cinematography of Joey Richey is a treat on the eyes. The colours of the woods that surround Little, the greens and the browns jump right out at you and make the screen pop again this colour, blocking and shot choice is emphasised in the final junkyard scenes.
There is no happy ending with Frontier what should we have been hoping for given the conditions of the story. Deep down we all knew exactly what was going to happen from the very beginning, it was just our blind optimism that kept us hoping for closure. On a deeper level, Frontier tells to us that even though we all develop specific skills, talents, and individuality in response to the environment we live in. Many of us for a large part of our lives remain captives of that very same environment.
Big and Little may not like each other but at this moment in time they need each other and you need to see this film.