Directors: Adam Stein & Zach Lipovsky
Writers: Zach Lipovsky & Adam Stein
Starring: Lexy Kolker, Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Grace Park, Amanda Crew
You’re not normal! You’re not normal!
Low budget, sci-fi/horror superhero movies have a pretty good track record when it comes to quality. Chronicle (2012) is probably the best-known entry in this sub-genre, but my favorite so far has been the Norwegian film Thelma (2017). Freaks stands proudly alongside these films by using its tight budget effectively and creating a world and mystery that kept me intrigued throughout its runtime.
The beginning of the film—and the vast majority of the rest of it—is spent in a house that’s boarded up, newspapers covering windows, with a father and daughter prepping for something. The Dad (Emile Hirsch) is teaching Chloe (Lexy Kolker) how to respond to people with normal answers. Like she’s a normal kid who isn’t living in a boarded-up prepper house. Thanks to the believable chemistry and slightly antagonistic chemistry between Hirsch and Kolker, this entire section is very intriguing and very believable. You buy that Dad is over-protective, intense, loving, and trying to prepare Chloe for something. You can tell that Chloe is going stir crazy just sneaking peeks at the outside world while her father isn’t looking.
The story slowly introduces elements that keep adding to the mystery of what’s going on while still throwing us off the scent. Who is the woman Chloe sees chained inside one of the rooms in their house? How does Chloe know this neighbor girl she’s never met? Should she risk going outside to get an ice cream cone from the truck that keeps parking near her house?
The answer to that last question for most kids is a loud, resounding “no,” but this ice cream truck is driven by Bruce Dern, so I get the temptation.
I really liked the parts of the film that were just the father and Chloe interacting and bouncing off of each other. There was a lot of tension from being cooped up too long that felt very natural, and a lot of that is down to the great work by Hirsch and particularly Kolker. It’s an extremely impressive debut performance from her, considering she has to carry quite a few scenes either on her own or as the lead. It was also a real pleasure to see Bruce Dern again. This was the liveliest he’s been since Nebraska. He’s fantastic as a character who is practically ripped from a Stephen King novel.
Once we learn about the outside world and the history of these characters, there are some pros and cons. I was definitely more intrigued by the film when it was playing its cards close to the vest. Once everything was out in the open, it didn’t feel quite as fresh. But I appreciate the new information that made me re-evaluate what came before was doled out at an even pace.
The highlight of the film for me was its creative use of special effects. Freaks is obviously a low-budget film. It takes advantage of that by doing things we’ve seen before in a creative way. When a character uses their psychic powers to talk to people far away, we see those people and parts of their surroundings in rooms of the house. It’s a visually creative way to save on-location shoots. Directors Adam Stein & Zach Lipovsky made good use of the house and created a real sense of space.
The finale ended up reminding me more of a particularly scary episode of the show Heroes than it probably should have. However, the rest of the movie made me care so much about these characters that it carried me through.
I think Freaks is the kind of movie that will appeal to a wide range of genre fans. If you like sci-fi, horror, or are tired of big-budget superhero movies and want to see something on a smaller, more personal scale, then Freaks is the film for you.