Directors: Zach Lipovsky, Adam B. Stein
Writers: Zach Lipovsky, Adam B. Stein
Stars: Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Grace Park
7-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) has been a shut-in her entire life, kept in a run-down old house by her obsessively protective father (Emile Hirsch). He says it’s for her own safety because she’s one of the dreaded “Abnormals” (a.k.a. Freaks), who are hunted and killed because of their unique abilities…just like her mother was. As we soon learn, Chloe’s special talent is getting inside the minds of others and making them bend to her will.
But Chloe grows skeptical and resentful of Dad’s over-protectiveness, eventually venturing out on her own at the urging of “Mr. Snowcone” (Bruce Dern), who’s parked in an ice cream truck outside the house. He also claims Chloe’s mother is actually still alive, held prisoner at a facility called The Mountain. Snowcone turns out to be Chloe’s grandfather – and also an Abnormal – and wants to go on the offensive, using her to infiltrate The Mountain and rescue her mother. Dad totally opposes this, wanting to remain in hiding, especially once government agents led by Cecelia Ray (Grace Park) become aware of their presence.
If the synopsis evokes a bit of deja vu, it’s because the basic concept of Freaks is remarkably similar to X-Men (back when that franchise was still interesting). But while it lacks the same budget and visual fireworks, Freaks compensates with a trio of terrific main characters dropped into a story that reveals its secrets with admirable creativity and patience. Similar patience might be required from some viewers, especially with a first act that plays more like a surreal, deliberately-paced horror film. However, once the film puts all its narrative cards on the table, the momentum picks up considerably, as do the stakes and overall level of bloody violence.
Though Freaks is darker and more visceral than a typical X-Men film, one can’t help but think this is the type of origin story that franchise should have gotten. Great performances help, of course. Once we get over his uncanny resemblance to Jack Black, Hirsch convincingly displays a father’s desperation to protect his child at any cost, even if he’s sometimes wrong. Dern plays yet-another cantankerous old man, but hey, he’s got it down cold and has more than his share of amusing moments. But the success of the film lies squarely on young Kolker’s shoulders, who’s more than up to the task. Appearing in nearly every scene, she’s remarkable.
Being that it’s sort of the antithesis of X-Men, I suppose some tenuous comparisons could be made to Brightburn. But where that film was mostly just a gore-soaked freak show, Freaks offers an intriguing spin on a familiar concept. The result is a neat little sci-fi thriller with a smart script and engaging characters.