I recently caught up with Brad Coley, the writer/director of Frank the Bastard and a San Franciscan by way of New England. In his haunting tale of dark secrets and unresolved pain, he’s wrapped a deeply spiritual exploration of life as we know it within a murder mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat. After comparing a few notes on our mutual New England upbringings and the stops on our transition from those cold, salty days, we dove into his tale.
“I like to say that in the age of wine coolers, our film is straight whiskey,” Coley says. “When we first started showing it, I don’t think people were ready for it. Somehow, the title I was talked into [East of Arcadia] didn’t make sense to people; when we told them it was originally supposed to be Frank the Bastard, they were like, ‘you should totally go back to that!’
I admitted to thinking that Frank fit what I had seen, even though we agreed it’s deceptive because it’s not Frank’s story, but a young woman named Clair. But there’s always that problem with a title that contains a “directional”: the audience starts trying to figure out where the map meets the fictionalized location. With Frank the Bastard, the themes could truly be legitimate anywhere outside of mainstream America.
Coley agrees. “I think America is a haunted landscape, the conflict between our idealized future and our haunted past,” he muses. “I like to call the film an American Gothic, and when we were shooting in Massachusetts, I felt like we found a place that the twenty-first century had passed over.”
The themes of that collision, between who we have been and who we want to be, led us to discuss the energy of that grief and pain that hangs over the movie like an unnamed extra character, just to the periphery of what the audience sees. “I think there’s a genuine demonic energy in the [antagonist] Gast family,” Coley says. “They are not just evil characters but characters with history.”
“It’s a very Old Testament film, so like Paradise Lost. Cyrus Gast [William Sadler] is no angel but when he’s living in the commune as a young man, he’s a person with all of these opportunities in front of him. But he falls, like Satan depicted [in Genesis].”
When it comes up that I’m actually a minister and not just a movie critic, Coley remarks, “I was raised by Irish Catholics and Presbyterians, so I know all of the shadowy elements of Christianity, but I never quite embraced it for myself.”
And then with a chuckle, “I’m kind of a lost sheep.”
Aren’t we all though? That’s the beauty of Frank the Bastard. It’s painted in shades of gray, where we all have pasts we have to wrestle with and truths we need to invest in ourselves. But in the end, we’re all trying to find our way, and none of us are exempt from a shot at redemption.
For more Coley, stay tuned for Las Chavas. It’s the story of the only girls orphanage in Honduras, Our Little Roses. Founded twenty-five years ago, it’s now the home to seventy girls ages one to eighteen who have been rescued from San Pedro Sula’s murderous streets. It’s sure to be a powerful story as well.