FREQUENCIES Review: A Sci-Fi Movie That Favors Ideas Over Effects

Darren Paul Fisher offers an ambitious look into a parallel world. 

Darren Paul Fisher's Frequencies - once titled OXV: The Manual, and the title change was a good one - takes place in a world parallel to ours, in which every person emits a certain frequency that determines his or her luck, which therefore determines his or her success in the world. Serendipity means perfect timing, endless opportunities, the ability to apply one's resources appropriately to any scenario. The higher the frequency, the luckier you are - and the less you feel. "Knowledge determines destiny" is the oft-repeated refrain of this world - if you know how a scenario is going to play out, you can approach that scenario to the maximum satisfaction of your goals. 

Eleanor Wyld is Marie, a student with an uncommonly high frequency level and nearly no empathy whatsoever. She is pursued by the lovelorn Zak (Daniel Fraser), whose love is by necessity unrequited, because the disparity in their frequency levels means that they can barely stand near one another without environmental chaos ensuing. As Zak and Marie grow older, he commits himself to a solution for this disparity, and he finds one in his young adulthood - a way to equalize the frequency between him and Marie. Marie begins to feel, Zak grows a little luckier, and the entire society that believes Zak's accomplishment is impossible starts to crumble around them. 

Frequencies is a detached film, with a tone that takes some warming up to. The narrative takes place at a deliberate distance from the audience, leaving us silent observers even more than most films. While this divorce from the viewers is, in fact, deliberate, it does make it difficult to love Frequencies. But the film is such a triumph of ideas that we appreciate it with our brains, even if our emotions aren't particularly engaged - in this way, we are much like young Marie, who views Zak's adoration as an interesting experiment that she would like to examine further. 

The film touches on a lot of themes - class inequality, determinism and free will - but it most speaks to the part of us that wants to believe that we can live outside of our potential. This is a story of a boy who's told again and again that he can't be who he wants to be, can't do what he wants to do, can't love who he wants to love - and he devotes himself, body, mind and soul, to the pursuit of dissolving those barriers. In doing so, Zak not only belies the debate of nature versus nurture, he proves that sheer will can overcome the mightiest of obstacles.

Frequencies is a small, British film with a very low budget - and it feels like it doesn't need to cost a cent more than it does. Everything that needs to be in the movie is here. It's a romance and a philosophical experiment, and it's also a science fiction film of the best kind: one that favors ideas over special effects. Fisher creates a fully-realized new world in Frequencies, and he does it with words and concepts instead of computer graphics and creatures. That is Frequencies' biggest triumph, and one that the summer tentpoles currently dominating the box office could learn from.