Review: FINAL FREQUENCY Has a Slight B-Movie Vibe

Final Frequency (2021)
Directed by Tim Lowry
Screenplay by Penny Gibben, Story by Christine Fry
Produced by Rachel E. Lowry, Tim Lowry, Joth Riggs, John David Ware, Derrick Warfel
Not Rated, 1hr 31min

UPDATED [see below]

The premise is pretty interesting, I have to say. Grad student gets caught up in a plot to destroy downtown Los Angeles with a manufactured earthquake aimed at the G20 summit, and she has to save her missing professor and head the bad guys off at the pass before it’s too late.

Along the way, we get some real-world technology dropped in, with the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) being thrown in as the device the bad guys plan to use to generate the earthquake by transmitting high-frequency waves into the atmosphere to trigger a vertical fault line underneath downtown Los Angeles. The secret to making it work is in the notebook of Nikola Tesla, who hid the book when the government took his research at the end of his career. There’s even the news report of diplomats being assaulted by high-pitched sound waves, based on an event that actually took place in 2016. Bits and pieces of real situations help to sell the less realistic pieces of the plot.

It’s a mix of real-world elements in a story that doesn’t quite gel enough to work as well as it should. The extrapolation of HAARP technology being used for mind control and earthquake generation is a fun bit, but there were several places where the visual effects and the obvious stock footage material (I have a similar license from Storyblocks) conspired to throw me out of the story more than I’d care to admit. It’s obvious they were working with a limited budget, and having been there myself, I tried to sympathize as much as I could.

Before you think I’ve got nothing good to say about it: yes, I thought it was “not bad” in the sense that I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time. I’ve made films like this. I know what kind of work goes into even the lowest of low-budget films. I can completely understand why I’m getting a “college film class” vibe here. It’s not drive-in B-movie fare, but it’s the kind of film you grabbed off the shelf at Blockbuster when you’ve seen everything else. And the idea of it is interesting enough to make it worth the time to watch it.

And that’s the takeaway for me. Everything’s almost there. The editing is almost tight enough. The cinematography is almost lit enough. And the performances are almost alive enough. It feels like there’s a lot of restraint and uncertainty among the cast. Director Tim Lowry has been in the business for a good twenty years, but he hasn’t been a director on many features, and it shows in the tentativeness of some of the actors. It’s almost like we’re watching a rehearsal for blocking. The energy and emotional beats just aren’t there in a lot of the scenes.

Now, the only performance worth noting is that of Charles Shaughnessy, who plays Professor Stuart Conrad. He does a creditable job of presenting a “make the world better” type of academic without playing too fast and loose with the “absent-minded professor” bit. Although there are a couple of moments where it feels like he’s doing someone a favor by participating in the project, Shaughnessy is clearly treating this as a serious role he should take seriously. He’s not phoning in his performance, and that helps elevate the scenes where a majority of the cast is most likely just starting out in their careers — at least, it feels that way.

Exceptions to this are Lou Ferrigno, Jr. and Richard Burgi, whom you may remember from The Sentinel. Burgi’s Cyrus Slanton isn’t scene-chewing over-the-top like he could have been, although he does dip into some moustache-twirling in a couple of places. Ferrigno gets some stunt work, but his turn as the campus security guard could have used a little more spark. But at least he’s putting more into it than the super-tall Josh Murray as exposition-spilling FBI agent Ward.

Seriously, what FBI agent tells civilians that much?

Again, we get back to that almost — the script needs one more pass to smooth out the rough edges and the pacing issues (and lose the “story up to now” montage dream). There are a number of interesting ideas in play with this story, but they’re not quite fully developed.

Kirby Bliss Blanton has to carry a bulk of the film as Esther Dahlset, moving from worried sister to concerned student to action heroine. She gives a solid performance, but it’s like everything else: it serves the basic need for the scene. It’s just enough. She’s got potential, and I’d be curious to see what kind of performances she gives in other projects. You get a sense that Esther is a fish out of water when we hit the “Scooby Gang A-Team” montage.

I’d be curious to see what this would look like with one more pass in editing to tighten the pace and spend a little more time on the fire and explosion stock footage that’s composited into the scenes. Current day technology would certainly be able to blend that in a little better than what we got.

All in all, I’m giving it a “recommend” simply because it’s not a multi-bajillion dollar blockbuster that has to make a couple of billion to break even. I can appreciate the work that went into this. I can see the effort and the time taken to marshal limited resources to make this thing. And of course, they score points for including some of Tesla’s research, even if it’s peripherally.

[Update: this review previously noted that the film was the result of a contest. Producer John David Ware informs us that the contest involved a different project. The article has been updated with that error removed.]

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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