Freak. It’s a strange word, adaptable to the context in which it is used. Some take it as an offensive term while others find it to be a label of distinction. It’s formally defined as “a person or animal on exhibition as an example of a strange deviation from nature; a monster.” Whether we wear the brand like a badge of honor or use it to make sense of someone different from what we consider to be natural, the word freak is one representative of the extreme. Who do we regard as freaks? Can anybody be a freak? Are we able to exist peacefully with those are different from the norm? Freaks, the sci-fi horror directed by Zach Lipovsky (Leprechaun: Origins) and Adam Stein (Kim Possible), projects a very real world where very unnatural people struggle to survive and cohabitate within a modern society.
Those of us familiar with the realm of comics might recognize this premise, as those with supernatural powers and the normal citizens they protect (or terrorize) are constantly at odds when it comes to assimilation. Freaks takes a more alternative route by introducing characters with interesting abilities who choose to stay hidden as the government attempts to slowly exterminate their kind. The narrative revolves around a little girl, Chloe, who lives with her father, Henry, barricaded in their home in the middle of suburban America in fear that they will be killed for her ability to manipulate the actions of others and his ability to manipulate time. Stigmatization and social consciousness reinforce the commentary of Lipovsky and Stein’s film as it unfolds a strange coming of age story filled with heartbreak, connection, and retaliation. Freaks reminds us of the importance of individuality, but not without a few non-fatal flaws.
Powered by a small, but experienced cast including Emile Hirsch (The Autopsy of Jane Doe), Bruce Dern (The ‘Burbs), Amanda Crew (Silicon Valley), and Grace Park (A Million Little Things), Freaks bears a familiar plot with a modern, mature edge and genuine heart. Its frontrunner played by Lexy Kolker in her film debut, Chloe, draws an intriguing portrait of a young girl coming to terms with not only her strange ability, but also her independence. The remote relationship she shares with her father, Henry, is what pushes the viewers to go ‘all in’ as the stakes of their existence take a dangerous turn. His relentless protection ultimately causes their relationship to suffer, and Chloe’s rebellious instinct to explore the world around her creates tense and distraught interactions. Freaks is not a perfect film, but the element worth highlighting lies in its effective direct approach to the dichotomy between parent and child.
These two characters are written with sympathy and purpose. The two actors, despite their difference in age, take on their roles with superbly raw emotion. Kolker’s talent lends a strong factor of authenticity to Hirsch’s effortless acting, creating a balance between what Freaks possesses and what it may lack. Realistic humor provided by Dern and played off of Hirsch ties the family together with charisma and sincerity. Touching on themes of sacrifice, failure, curiosity, and acceptance, Freaks is a valiant effort to comment on the relevant issues of stigmatization and how far one will go to protect those they love from destruction.
The Good vs The Bad
Freaks boasts a unique but complex plot from act one. As the scenes progress and we learn more about the young girl’s special gifts, her family, and how the ‘normal’ people of humanity challenge their kind, the situation becomes a little convoluted before the smoke clears. I appreciate filmmakers giving me scenes to chew on, allowing me to watch the pieces of a puzzle fall into place, but Freaks struggles to get going and only seems to add more perplexing instances of space, time, and relative placement at the top of the second act. Chloe’s reality of what she is truly is seeing and what might be happening at the hands of her ability draws up too many questions that are answered a little too late in the story. Freaks attempts to guide the viewer with crafty exposition, but weakens its grip on the necessary qualities of storytelling at times. It takes a good bit of the film’s runtime to set up the ominous situation Henry and Chloe find themselves in, and for the viewer to map out the inner workings of the narrative. It stands as a shocking surprise that Freaks embraces the environment it’s built upon and strikes back in full force.
While most films, especially those of the horror and sci-fi genres, lose their audience in the third act, Freaks establishes a clear motive that rebounds from almost all of its prior wounds and flaws before the credits roll. An appropriate handful of some pretty great scenes stimulated by strong visual graphics and intensity keep the film’s engagement alive. Again, while most CGI special effects take us out of the film, Freaks manages to stray from expectations by producing impressive skills in visual qualities that are not too artificial, cheap, or distracting. It brilliantly presents and works the family’s abilities to heighten action scenes and cleverly twists individual dramatics to reinforce the movement of the plot.
Combined with a relatable focus on Henry and Chloe, Freaks is cleverly grounded in reality. Lipovsky and Stein are capable storytellers with an extremely promising cinematic grasp geared toward modern audiences. The ‘abnormals’ community is a prime allegory representing a broad statement against the relocation and termination of those who are different in a society fueled by fear, paranoia, and ignorance. Whether it’s viewed as a mode of political commentary or a microcosm of individual self-conscious awareness, Freaks sets itself apart from typical ‘outcast’ tales with confident intentions and an alternative, creative drive. Like everything and everyone we see around us, Freaks is humanized by its mostly hidden flaws, but wears the beauty of individuality and distinction proudly for all to see.
‘Freaks’ Exposes Social Stigmas With Special Abilities and Few Flaws [Review]
In a world where acceptance is hard to find and unique abilities are challenged, Freaks soars beyond expectations by embracing a familiar but relevant plot powered with unique characteristics. The imperfections of scene perception and pacing are complacently hidden behind a confident final act charged with special visual and narrative effect, individuality, talent, and heart.