A Stranger Arrives in Time for Trouble in this Neo-Noir Thriller

frontier_coverDIRECTED BY OREN SHAI/2016 (U.S. theatrical release date)


Somewhere in the timeframe of decades ago, somewhere in the desert, a car pulls up to a diner.  A girl gets out, a girl with a secret history we may never know.  Once she goes inside, things will not be the same. Not ever.  Welcome to The Frontier.

The Frontier.  That’s the name of the diner.  It’s also, of course, the name of this movie, itself a dead ringer for something out of the past.  Shot on super 16mm film, it’s a nifty little neo-Noir with a crooked ensemble, a big bag of cash, a diamond necklace that likes to go missing, and maybe a gun or two.  It’s a refreshing little throwback; not bad at all for something shot in 2014.  How easy is it to assume The Frontier for something vintage?  My wife mistook actor Jim Beaver for someone from Little House on the Prairie, because that couldn’t possibly be the guy from Deadwood in a movie that’s as old this one appears to be.  Well played, filmmaker and crew.

Jocelin Donahue in THE FRONTIER.

Jocelin Donahue in THE FRONTIER.

With its sharp, punchy dialogue and no shortage of classic cinematic vibe, filmmaker Oren Shai is clearly influenced by Tarantino and the miles of exposed celluloid that’s influenced him.  Shai says so much on his commentary track, itself an enjoyable interview-formatted affair in which he harkens back to the golden, silver, bronze and heck, let’s just say chrome ages of cinema.  At times, the QT influence is a bit too heavy, as the leading lady’s dialogue often plays like it was written exclusively for Uma Thurman.  But for the most part, Shai has clearly learned many of the right lessons from Tarantino, et al.  Which is more than can be said of so many others.  Shai is a film buff filmmaker who knows his stuff, mentioning movies like Petrified Forest and Bus Stop well before ever mentioning Pulp Fiction or The Hateful Eight.

Shai and company don’t rewrite the rules the way Tarantino or anyone else ever did.  But they do deliver a good little grabber of a movie.

The girl (actually “The Stranger”) is played by the lovely and talented Jocelin Donahue, best known as the lead in another deliberate throwback, director Ti West’s 2009 horror movie House of the Devil.  Ms. Donahue has, as one would expect, done a whole lot since then, and does a fine job of holding down the fort here, even when the material is less stable than West’s.  Shai is spinning more plates than he perhaps realized, what with a good half dozen mysterious scoundrels (including Kelly Lynch as the diner’s manager, Beaver as an imposing brute, and Izabella Miko and Jamie Harris as an “old Hollywood” couple known as Gloria and Flynn) and the odd reoccurring lawman (a Stetson wearing AJ Bowen).  But it all works out in the end.  At least, as well as most any crime noir does.


Shai and company don’t rewrite the rules the way Tarantino or anyone else ever did.  But they do deliver a good little grabber of a movie.  Being the director’s first narrative feature project (he’s also the editor and co-wrote it with Webb Wilcoxen) The Frontier is a most promising calling card for him, and a punchy entry on everyone else’s resumes.

The blu-ray package from Kino Lorber is a top notch effort.  Obviously the video transfer effectively sells the old time veneer.  But the colors and sound stand out as vibrant amid the deliberate film grain and muted desert locale.  Bonus features include the afore mentioned commentary track, as well as several good little featurettes, including interviews with Jocelin Donahue, Jim Beaver and AJ Bowen, as well as a few minutes of someone’s 8mm footage of the movie being made.  Because why not, right?

If you want an entertaining crime film in which care has been taken and the key talent are definitely going places, stop into The Frontier – where frontier justice might just be a thing of the past!