Tribeca 2024 Review: THE A-FRAME, A Gooey Black Comedy With Heart From Calvin Reeder

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
Tribeca 2024 Review: THE A-FRAME, A Gooey Black Comedy With Heart From Calvin Reeder

An ambitious amateur physicist makes some big promises to a desperate cancer patient in Calvin Lee Reeder’s latest feature, The A-Frame. Well known for his lo-fi avant garde nightmare features The Oregonian and The Rambler, Reeder steps into a more linear storytelling style with his latest film, delivering a pitch-black science fiction comedy with heart (and blood).

Donna (Dana Namerode) is nearing the end of her rope. Recently diagnosed with an aggressive bone cancer that could lead to an amputation that would end her blossoming music career, she’s desperate for another solution. While sitting in the waiting room at her oncologist’s office, she’s approached by basement physicist Sam (Johnny Whitworth) with a tantalizing offer: take part in a revolutionary experiment and maybe she can keep her hand and her life, she just has to trust him.

The procedure involves subatomic particle displacement. Essentially sending her hand to a different dimension and instantaneously bringing it back, but this time, no cancer. It’s a bizarre concept, but it isn’t like something we haven’t seen before in Cronenberg’s The Fly or even with Mike TV in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (a film that gets namechecked here). Having lost faith in her doctors to come up with an alternative to the big chop, she takes the plunge and things seem to work out, but not everything is as it seems.

A cancer support group is a recurring element in the plot, and in this group, the theme seems to be one of acceptance of their impending doom. The leader of the group, Linda (Laketa Caston), even seems to admonish Donna about accidentally offering hope to other patients when her cancer scans come back clean after the first procedure.

Like most of Reeder’s other works, The A-Frame uses deep, dark absurdist humor to tackle some bigger ideas. A fellow patient and wannabe standup comedian named Rishi (Nik Dodani) uses his jokes as a cudgel against the increasing bad news regarding his own leukemia. He uses his mic on stage to elicit pity-laughs at his half-lame jokes as a way of distracting himself from the pain he should be feeling. As his disease accelerates, Donna invites Rishi to participate in her miracle cure, but his results are, let’s say, less successful.

The relatively small cast works well together, Donna’s desperation contrasts well against Sam’s aloof confidence in his ability to cure the world, while Rishi and Linda play as balancing forces against the seriousness of the main themes. A warning against listening to snake-oil peddling hucksters uncritically. And while the procedures are definitely revolutionary, when taken to their intended ends, they don’t work out as neatly as Sam was hoping, leading to some very messy aftermath.

A body horror film disguised as a black comedy, The A-Frame is definitely Calvin Lee Reeder’s most accessible feature film, and those familiar with his short films will definitely see an evolution of his unique visual and narrative style here. Funny without obvious jokes, gross in a way that will have gorehounds howling, and cleverly written with a handmade feeling that endears us to these everyman characters, it’s a belter of a film that should give Reeder the wider audience he’s long deserved.

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Calvin ReederDana NamerodeJohnny WhitworthTribeca 2024Tribeca Festival

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