Indie Shorts: FRECKLES (2016) by Denise Papas Meechan

FRECKLES (2016) is a new short indie film from writer-director-producer Denise Papas Meechan. It is a psychological drama about a young woman named Lizzie (Jenn Halweil). Meechan describes Lizzie as “a super-freckled, self-hating virgin.” Yet Lizzie is also a powder keg of anger that’s waiting for a spark to set it off.

In the first scene, Lizzie tells her backstory as a voice-over narrator. Speaking her thoughts as her actions play on-screen, she describes the distorting effects of her omnipresent freckles (which her mother called “kisses from God”) on her psychosocial development from a girl to a young woman.

Still from FRECKLES (2016)

In the shower, Lizzie (Halweil) contemplates the consequences of having freckles – image source: FrecklesFilm.com

During this emotional monologue, the camera follows her as she wakes up, gets out of bed, and begins a typical day. But this is not just another day in her personal hell. It’s the beginning of what will become an existential meltdown. Meechan calls it a “descent into a dark, depressive, lethal insanity.”

Still from FRECKLES (2016)

A passer-by reacts to Lizzie’s freckles (from her POV) – image source: FrecklesFilm.com

Lizzie continues to narrate throughout the remaining scenes. First, we see the negative interactions between her and strangers on the street as she walks to work. She returns the stares of other pedestrians with a baleful glare.

Still from FRECKLES (2016)

Margo (Dashow) in an over-the-shoulder shot from Lizzie’s POV – image source: FrecklesFilm.com

Once at work, where she does graphic art, she endures tales of sexual adventure told by her obnoxious co-worker Margo (Jane Dashow). After work, we meet one of her friends, Brody (Antonio E. Silva), as he works on his motorbike on a street corner. He asks her for a favor that she grudgingly grants.

Still from FRECKLES (2016)

Brody (Silva) talks with Lizzie – image source: FrecklesFilm.com

In different ways, Margo and Brody have laid hold of what has eluded Lizzie. They have lives that include meaningful relationships with others. They experience friendship, good times, sex, and love.

Lizzie’s self-loathing leads her to despise anyone who has managed to build meaningful relationships with others. She sees her freckles as the cause of her radical alienation from other people. For the viewer, they also come to stand for a deeper problem with society and culture. Like like the red “A” worn by Hester Prynne in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, they become symbolic of her rejection by society.

Still from FRECKLES (2016)

A line from the poetry of John Donne highlights the theme of alienation – image source: FrecklesFilm.com

As the ancient Israelites of the Bible ostracized lepers, so modern Western society forces Lizzie to live “outside the camp” of the dominant culture. The reason? She cannot meet the aesthetic standards of that culture. This negative appraisal causes her to feel worthless as a human being.

As a result, she withdraws into hopelessness, loneliness, and self-loathing. In this state, she learns to hate not only herself but also others — those who have met the same standard that she did not. In this way, Lizzie’s freckles become the hiding places for her demons.

Throughout the film, there is a marked contrast between Lizzie as a narrator and as a participant in her life. In the former role, her running commentary is profuse, almost hyperverbal. In the latter, she rarely says a word to anyone. That is, until she just can’t take it anymore.

The final scene in which Lizzie loses control and vents her anger in a murderous rage is bound to be upsetting and controversial to some viewers. She takes out all her pent-up fury on a victim who has done no harm to her. Moreover, this victim is a person who has likely also suffered under the negative judgment of the dominant culture.

According to Meechan, FRECKLES makes “a powerful statement about the effect strict cultural standards can make on a woman’s appearance and psyche.” It also has something to say about how such standards dehumanize those who find themselves judged by society as failing to meet them. As they fall apart under the stress of alienation, people like Lizzie can lose sight of the humanity of others. In the end, they can treat others in as brutal a fashion as others have treated them.

The Making of FRECKLES

Shot with an ARRI Alexa digital camera, FRECKLES boasts excellent cinematography. The collaboration between Meechan and DP Steve Gray emphasizes increasingly claustrophobic shots that enhance the rising sense of desperation in Lizzie’s story. The editing by Ulysses Adams produces a well-paced, smoothly-flowing story. An original musical score by Keith Oqueli adds a haunting sense of foreboding. Motion graphics by Joel Espana and Adrienne Shneyder add humor to scenes that would otherwise have been too intense.

The Writer-Director-Producer of FRECKLES

FRECKLES is the first short film that Meechan has helmed. Her past work included producing five TV series (three of which she wrote and two of which she directed). She has also produced or co-produced two short films other than FRECKLES.

Meechan won an Emmy for her work on the cult hit, “Subway Q&A.” Her horror screenplay “Skin” won the bronze award at the Hollywood Screenplay Contest. Her comedy screenplay “Sex Dreams of Jon Stewart” was a semi-finalist in the Screencraft Comedy competition.

The World Premiere of FRECKLES

FRECKLES will have its world premiere next month in the Short Film Corner of the Court Métrage at Cannes. For further information, check out the film’s website and follow it on Twitter.

Disclosure: Denise Papas Meechan provided Loud Green Bird with access to an online screener of FRECKLES for this solicited review. Loud Green Bird also accessed a publicly-available press kit and images relating to the film, both of which can be found on its official website. No financial considerations were involved in the writing and publication of this review.