For the first few minutes of "Fraud," it seems like we're in for an interminable assemblage of home movies from some boring-ass white family from the burbs. There's little actual dialogue or interaction between the father, the mother, or either of their two children here. Instead, there are repeated scenes of comically overt, consumerist lust: TV commercials, online shopping, and excursions to the mall, all stitched together in five-second cuts from camcorder footage. At one point, the husband stands by filming while the wife opens up a new iPod Touch she's purchased, and both seemingly devolve into primates discovering fire for the first time.
It's all a little on the nose, until the family runs into debt and burns their house to the ground to reap insurance money and fund a cross-country shopping spree. Then it's an exercise excoriating the wanton cycle of capitalism and how it turns middle Americans into flesh-scratching junkies just fuckin' jonesing for the next thing to shell out cash for. But the message of Dean Fleischer-Camp's conceptual, semi-documentary isn't what's impressive or innovative here, rather it's the brilliant craft utilized by himself and editor Jonathan Rippon to create this oddly thrilling—and entirely fictional—narrative from whole cloth.
The family in "Fraud" is real. The footage is legit, culled from over 100 hours of random videos uploaded to a YouTube channel over the course of several years discovered by Fleischer-Camp, and then Fleischer-Camp and Rippon spent an insane amount of time cherry picking just the right pieces of visual information to create this pseudo-caper flick. Unlike most home movies though, the footage of this family has a peculiar aesthetic: lots of close-ups and odd angles allowing for quick cuts resulting in a startling montage that suggests the structure of film grammar completely stripped of voice-over narration or any dialogue more complicated than remarking how good Old Bay-spiced french fries taste.
At times, it's easy to think the entire thing is staged, especially when the young daughter sings a song with lyrics like "give me a million dollars, Facebook / I love you, Facebook, even if you're not a person." The cutting pattern and the oddball tone make it feel like an old Jonas Ackerlund music video or something you'd see late at night on Adult Swim, right after "American Dad" reruns but before the infomercials for non-stick frying pans. At 52-minutes, it's not long enough to feel particularly substantive, and seeing it on the big screen can be a little disorienting, but "Fraud" possesses a hypnotic pull that's hard to deny. It's like the cocaine paranoia set piece from "Goodfellas," but instead of Ray Liota outrunning helicopters, it's a family of four cashing in a State Farm check to flee to Canada and start their self destructive cycle of hoarding anew in a foreign land. "Fraud" may not exactly "make you think," but it might make you queasy the next time you stop at an ATM to pull out cash for an impromptu mall visit to buy some shit you know you don't need.
"Fraud," directed by Dean Fleischer-Camp, screens at the Parkway Theatre for one week starting May 19.