Romeo’s Distress (2016)
Starring Anthony Malchar, Jeffrey Allan Solomon, Kimberely A. Peterson, Dave Street
Directed by Jeff Frumess
The main reason why people like myself gravitate towards ‘underground’ horror is because you can guarantee that, almost every time, the filmmakers have 100% creative control. That doesn’t mean to say there isn’t a lot of generic crap out there as well, but if you’re willing to do some digging and seek out these DIY filmmakers, you will find a lot of unique little oddities that brim with originality and seduce with their charms. Which brings us to the topic of discussion: Romeo’s Distress.
Romeo’s Distress is the debut feature from writer/director/actor Jeff Frumess and it’s a prime example of just how brilliant the horror which creeps beneath the surface can be. Part John Waters, part David Lynch, part Gothic Shakespearean tragedy, part post punk odyssey, it tells the story of James (Anthony Malchar), a young man who’s madly in love with a girl (who doesn’t feel the same way), but her father and brother don’t approve of him and are more than willing to take extreme measures to ensure he doesn’t come anywhere near her. Imagine Romeo and Juliet, only if Juliet wasn’t as keen as her lover.
The performances are surprisingly good across the board, especially considering most of the cast in films this DIY tend to be family and friends. Frumess even cast his grandparents in minor roles for this one, and they sell their parts with enthusiasm and conviction. Jeffrey Allan Solomon (who’s starred in a number of indie flicks) is also impressively menacing as the disapproving father, while Malchar is an engaging, sympathetic protagonist (even if he is a bad sort by societal standards).
The initial drawing factor of Romeo’s Distress is the mood, which feels constantly offbeat and dreamlike throughout, The film is shot almost entirely in black and white, which isn’t just a cool stylistic choice aesthetically, but it also captures the head state and skewered worldview of our protagonist, who isn’t quite at one with reality for most of the proceedings. The movie maintains its unusual aura at all times, but as the story unfolds and revelations are made, what we get is a tale which explores the dark side of love that’s actually quite touching. If you’ve ever had your heart broken, it might even give you a case of the feels.
At the same time, the film is not without its twisted moments either, and the surreal qualities do possess the power to unsettle occasionally. But there is a rainbow of emotions on display here; Frumess has opted to craft a surreal psychological horror experience, in a world populated by oddball characters which despite its quirky nature, contains some raw human themes most of us can relate to at some point in our lives – loss, heartbreak, loneliness, etc – and as a result, transcends genre barriers. Romeo’s Distress isn’t one particular thing, and therefore it might turn out to be everything you’ve been looking for if you’re the type of film fan always on the look out for something a little bit different.
Although not a musical, Romeo’s Distress is driven by musical beats, featuring songs from the finest punk and death rock acts including T.S.O.L. and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The film’s title is a reference to the Christian Death song of the same name after all, and it wears its musical inspirations on its sleeves. For some filmmakers, music is one of the most vital components of their movies; Quentin Tarantino is renowned for drawing inspiration from his vinyl collection when he’s penning a script so he can find the beat of his story, and you get a similar vibe from Romeo’s Distress. The song selection is specific, intentional and the doomy, beating heart of the entire movie.
Romeo’s Distress is the personification of a passion project, a smorgasbord of influences ranging from avant-garde cinema, Gothic literature, punk rock and more. However, despite Frumess’ loving odes on display like a badge of honor, he’s refined them in such a way that his debut feature is its own beast. This movie certainly isn’t for everyone, but there is no denying that Frumess is an emerging talent with an uncompromising vision, and those are the filmmakers the horror genre needs more of.
The film recently won the Best Screenplay Award at the Macabre Faire Film Fest and will be heading to more festivals later this year. If you want to stay updated, then head on over to the Facebook page for updates.