By Jerome Reuter
Plot Synopsis: An introverted nerd named James falls head over heels for a girl named Jane. While pursuing her, her controlling father and a hired assailant stalk his every move.
Boy meets girl; it’s quite possibly one of the most familiar scenarios to any moviegoer. It’s also one so commonplace, that it’s actually become tiresome and predictable. You can only sit through so many recycled love stories before you start wanting something different, groundbreaking, and maybe just a tad more edgy than what you’re used to. Thankfully, there’s director Jeff Frumess’ directorial debut, Romeo’s Distress. A twisted take on the old clichéd formula, that caters to those of us who have a palate for all things strange and bizarre. This is a story for the disembodied, and those of us who are different.
Romeo’s Distress differs from a good amount of indie films released in recent years. It manages to blend an avant-garde style of filmmaking with horror, black comedy, and highly effective storytelling. It blends these genres together, all the while remaining an original work. Which is something that’s becoming harder and harder to come by in this era of modern filmmaking.
The focus of our story is James, an introverted outsider who’s a far cry from the typical leading man. He’s actually a really interesting character. Aside from his nerdy persona; it’s what the film doesn’t establish about him that gives him a type of mystique. Instead of hashing out exposition or going into great lengths to describe his backstory, he’s allowed to develop as the film progresses. His behavior is strange, and the events in his life are somewhat comical at times, which do a great job of obscuring the darker parts of his personality. We’re forced to reconsider weather or not he’s someone we should empathize with, or if there’s something we’re not seeing in him.
The supporting characters that make up the rest of the narrative help the story take on a life of its own, and contrast greatly with our protagonist’s struggles. More specifically, Jane’s father, who will stop at nothing to keep James from gaining access to his object of affection. Which brings up a few questions you might ask while you’re watching the film; is this control justified, or is it the actions of someone who’s overprotective? The fact that Jane is only seen in flashback sequences builds our curiosity with her, and the nature of the relationship she had with James. (if there really was one to begin with.)
A good story will keep you guessing. A great story will leave out just enough detail to hold your interest until its inevitable conclusion. Without a doubt, this is the greatest attribute this film possesses. Its use of storytelling proves you don’t need excessive violence, visceral effects, or flashy cinematography to make a good story come to life. It’s paced remarkably well, and nothing seems rushed or dragged out for far to long. This allows everything to fall into place at exactly the right moment.
Aside from the great use of narrative storytelling, a good amount of people might enjoy some of the films counter culture references. The title of the film itself comes from a song by legendary death rock group Christian Death. If you keep close attention to the dialogue, you’ll also catch a reference to a classic song by The Buzzcocks. You might also be reminded of a book you were introduced to in elementary school, about a pacifist bull with a love for all things floral. The references don’t dominate the story, but they’re a good touch, and something else to appreciate about this whole endeavor.
Frumess’ attention to detail with the audio and visual aspects of Romeo’s Distress is the proverbial ‘icing on the cake.’ Filmed almost entirely in black & white, the cinematography features low lighting that adds to this films bizarre atmosphere. Whenever a flashback or dream sequence is shown, it shifts to color and utilizes a good use of color contrast and saturation. Contrasting with the rest of the story, these sequences have a campy and whimsical feel about them. Adding to this feeling is the upbeat music that accompanies them, at times almost feeling like a throwback to an early John Waters production.
Romeo’s Distress is a breath of fresh air. An independent film that shows that great talent can still be found right in our own backyard.