Film / Frequency

Frequency is a 2000 film directed by Gregory Hoblit and written by Toby Emmerich.

John Sullivan (Jim Caviezel) is the adult son of a firefighter, Frank (Dennis Quaid), who died on the job when John was a child. John discovers that during the Aurora Borealis he can use his father's old ham radio to talk to him 30 years in the past. Using his knowledge of the past thirty years, John changes history, saving Frank from dying. They soon discover that changing the timeline has drastic consequences. A serial killer known as the Nightingale Killer had died in the old timeline - but in the new timeline, John's mother, a nurse, was not called away due to Frank's death, and thus she was able to prevent the killer's death in the hospital. In the erased timeline, the killer claimed only three victims - but in the new timeline he kills ten women, one of them John's mother.

Working across a span of thirty years, John and Frank work together to stop a serial killer, who soon sets his sights on the Sullivans...

In 2016, The CW greenlit Frequency, a television adaptation of the film; John Sullivan has undergone a Gender Flip into Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List), Frank has been made into a cop just like his daughter, and the concurrent timelines are now 1996 and 2016 (only a 20-year separation). Going undercover, he was murdered under circumstances which ruined his reputation and left his widowed wife and daughter alone and confused. The rest of the plot seems to be roughly the same as the film for now, albeit with Frank, having survived his assassination attempt, looking into the who's and why's of his murder.

Not to be confused with the obscure Rhythm Game of the same name.

This film provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: "I'm still here, Chief." Appears in contexts ranging from Frank assuring little Johnny that he's still supporting him on his bicycle to Frank showing up in the present—having quit smoking to make sure he lived that long—to save adult John from Shepard.
  • Big Damn Heroes: John's father rescuing him in the present.
  • Brick Joke: Yahoo.
  • Butterfly of Doom: John saves his dad... but kills his mom. Unusually for the trope, he fixes that too, eventually, along with fixing everything that was wrong with his life.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Literally.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The knowledge Frank gains from John about 30 years worth of baseball surely comes in handy later.
  • Chronic Evidence Retention Syndrome: The Nightingale Killer in Frequency had a box with trophies and newspaper clippings, stashed in a hidden compartment in a closet in his apartment. Once John identifies the killer in 1999, he sends his father (in 1969) to the address to find it, since the police knew that the killer always took mementos.
  • Da Chief: Satch, modern-day John's boss and his Dad's best friend 30 years prior.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: The effects of the temporally-displaced conversation between father and son don't take place all at once. Although it is quite inconstant — the speed of some actions in the past seems synced to the speed of the effects appearing in the present while others can take only a fraction of a second in the past but the effect in the present takes much longer. Notable examples:
    • A sentence written in the past appearing in the present letter-by-letter.
    • In one scene, the bad guy gets his hand blown off with a shotgun, meanwhile his 30 years in the future counterpart is shocked to see that same hand wither away into a nub while strangling his original opponent's son.
    • Later the father, who originally died 30 years ago appears out of nowhere to finish off the bad guy.
  • For Want of a Nail: All over the gosh-dang place.
  • From Bad to Worse: John gets quite the surprise the day after saving his father when he finds out that there are seven more victims in the Nightingale killings than there were pre-changing history. The killer was never caught. And one of the victims was John's mother (who unknowingly saved the killer's life in the new timeline). Cue Halfway Plot Switch.
  • Going Cold Turkey: How Frank Sullivan apparently quits smoking in order to save his son in 1999.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Goes from touching story about a son reconnecting with his dead father into a Set Right What Once Went Wrong thriller. And it works.
  • It's Personal:
    • Once Nightingale starts to go after John's mom, it is so on.
    • He may not 100% know what's going on, but The Nightingale knows who to blame:
      Nightingale: Time for me to steal your life away.
  • Mama Bear: Julia
  • Meanwhile, in the Future...: Both timelines run congruent to each other thirty years apart. When Frank affects something in 1969, John feels its effect at the same time of day in 1999.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: The way Frank uses his firefighting knowledge to rig electrical wiring, a metal door, coffee, a spraycan and a lighter smacks of this.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: See Butterfly of Doom, above.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: 1999!Shepard saying "Time to die, Sullivan!" to 1999!John gets picked up over the radio in 1969, distracting 1969!Shepard long enough for Julia to get the jump on him and Frank to shoot his hand off.
  • Oh, Crap!: The look on Frank's face when Shepard corners him in the police station.
    • Shepard also has a facial version in 1999 when his hand starts shriveling up... after Frank blows it off in 1969.
      • Which continues when Frank shows up in 1999, ready to finish the job.
  • Phone Call from the Dead: The plot involves the main character's ability to communicate through time with his long-dead father through a ham radio.
  • Playing Gertrude: Elizabeth Mitchell is two years younger than Jim Caviezel while playing his mother. More appropriate when she plays the mother in the past, though.
  • Portal to the Past: Though it can only transmit sound, it gets a lot of creative use.
  • Ripple Effect Indicator: Throughout the movie. Perhaps most notably the letters burnt into the desk.
  • Ripple Effect-Proof Memory: After changing the past, John discovers that he remembers both the old timeline and the new one.
    • Somehow averted with Shepard. His brain should have been going nuts with deja vu and new timelines while he's fighting with the Sullivans in their respective time periods.
  • San Dimas Time: 1969 time and 1999 time seems to be hooked up and run concurrently during the duration of the aurora borealis. Possibly the best portrayed example in movie history.
  • Serial Killer: The Nightingale Killer.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The film is an extremely satisfying complete embodiment of this idea.
  • Skeleton Key Card: Frank tries to get into Sissy Clark's apartment with a Mastercard. It works, but he's too late for her.
  • Slow-Motion Drop: Frank's helmet hits the pavement when the warehouse building explodes. This is a technique for firefighters in impossible circumstances, as a last ditch call for help.
    • Also, a highball glass slips from John's hand when the timeline resets during Frank's rescue from the warehouse fire.
  • Slow-Motion Fall: Frank and the girl he is rescuing fall out of a burning building into the Hudson River.
  • The Slow Path: Everyone from '69, obviously, but the gold medal has to go to the Jack Shepard of the final timeline. After getting his ass kicked and his hand completely blown off by Frank, he then runs away and goes into hiding for thirty years before returning to the Sullivan house in 1999 to try to kill John.
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: John drops a hint to his perennially unlucky friend to invest in Yahoo when the company gets created. The epilogue shows that he did just that.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball
  • Trust Password: Frank learns through John's future description of the ongoing 1969 World Series and the warehouse fire that John is indeed his son in 1999. Frank, in turn, uses the World Series knowledge in order to convince his cop friend that he's telling the truth about John and that he's being framed for the Nightingale murders.
  • Write Back to the Future: Used by Frank to get fingerprint evidence to his son 30 years later. Also, to a lesser extent, scratching "STILL HERE" into the kitchen table.