Directed by Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky, Freaks effectively proves that you don’t need an overstuffed budget to create thrilling and innovative science fiction stories for the big screen, with the duo instead relying on a well-crafted and character-driven script, as well as some cleverly utilized digital tricks, never allowing any budgetary constraints to get in the way of their ambition as filmmakers looking to make their mark. Suffice to say, Freaks is the real deal, and features a trio of impressive performances from Bruce Dern, Emile Hirsch, and relative newcomer Lexy Kolker, who more than holds her own against her older cast mates.
Freaks introduces us to the world of the “Abnormals” (or “Freaks” for those who are a little less sensitive when it comes to labeling people who are different than others), a sizable portion of the population who have developed certain psycho-kinetic abilities, which understandably scares the rest of humanity and causes massive destruction in key cities around the world. And while Freaks does a solid job of world-building and creating this hugely impactful series of events, the focus of the film is far more intimate, as we’re introduced to the precocious Chloe (Kolker), who lives tucked away from the outside world with her protective dad (Hirsch) in their broken-down home, shuttered from any potential dangers lurking on the streets. Chloe knows very little of what is happening around her—she knows there are dangerous individuals who cannot be trusted, she knows she is to remain inside the house no matter what, and if anything should happen to her father, they’ve even worked out an emergency protocol between them to ensure little Chloe’s safety in the future.
But visions of her deceased mother (Amanda Crew) as well as the arrival of the mysterious Mr. Snowcone (Dern) spurn Chloe’s desire to escape from her reclusive life and experience all that the world has to offer. But the young girl begins to realize just how dangerous life is outside of her home, as Freaks then ventures into governmental conspiracy territory, with the less said about the film’s final act, the better, as to not ruin some of the film’s clever reveals.
The beauty of why Freaks works as well as it does is how Lipovsky and Stein (who also co-wrote the film together) structure their story, slowly revealing the pieces of their cinematic puzzle, culminating in a breathtaking and arduous finale that rivals anything I’ve seen in a movie of this ilk with five times the budget. There’s an intricacy to how both filmmakers blend several genres in Freaks that I couldn’t help but admire, as they slowly pull the layers back, revealing just what their endgame is here, and it’s truly something special to behold once you realize what everything in this story is leading up to.
What keeps Freaks so engrossing is the directors’ approach to this horrific new world where everything feels grounded in a sense of plausible relatability (or maybe it’s just that our reality these days has become somewhat nightmarish, and I found the sociopolitical parallels between Freaks and current times a bit too close for my own comfort). That’s why the film is so effective, because the issues explored here—whether it’s how society treats us, parental struggles, or just trying to figure out our purpose in life—are universal. Plus, having a stellar cast that just clicks beautifully on screen doesn’t hurt things, either.
As far as cinematic calling cards go, Freaks certainly leaves a huge impression, and the ingenuity on display from both Stein and Lipovsky is remarkable. I’m a sucker for scrappy indie sci-fi projects that aim high, and there are aspects of this film that remind me greatly of films like Monsters, the recently released Wildling, or even Room (especially the first half of the movie), so it very much struck a chord with me as a viewer. While some of the elements of its narrative might tread some familiar territory, Freaks manages to find new ways to circumvent expectations and deliver a wholly entertaining experience.
Movie Score: 4/5