Directed by Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein.
Starring Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Grace Park, Lexy Kolker and Amanda Crew.
A bold girl discovers a bizarre, threatening, and mysterious new world beyond her front door after she escapes her father’s protective and paranoid control.
From one of the directors of the execrable Leprechaun: Origins comes a reminder not to judge directors too harshly by their prior work, because there’s always the possibility they might surprise you one day. Case in point, we have this creative, low-fi sci-fi thriller, which is best seen while knowing as little about it as possible. In respect of that, this review will keep concrete details scant.
Seven-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) lives in her squalid, messy suburban home with her twitchy, nervous father (Emile Hirsch), who has Chloe coached for a series of hypothetical, seemingly post-apocalyptic scenarios should undesirables come a-knocking. Like any child her age, though, Chloe’s curiosity grows unbearable, and she sets out to discover what is waiting for them on the other side of their front door.
Freaks is a film that grips tight from its very first scene, with writer-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein weaving a compelling enigma about the precise nature of father and daughter’s claustrophobic scenario.
It is a story that keeps the viewer guessing, and though much of its first half is propelled forward by vagaries, this almost always entices rather than frustrates. This is largely thanks to two spectacular central performances from young Lexy Kolker and the ever-reliable Emile Hirsch, whose dynamic vacillates between gentle tenderness and explosive intensity at any given moment.
Kolker proves herself a natural here, holding her own incredibly well against a veteran thesp like Hirsch, while avoiding basically all of the over-affected cliches that can hamper the believability of young performers. Hirsch, with his frazzled countenance and guarded demeanour, is compulsively watchable throughout, and manages to preserve the film’s surprises without it feeling contrived for our benefit.
Elsewhere there’s also a fun role for Bruce Dern that’s best left unspoiled. His sheer presence in a project like this is a tad baffling, but he commits fully to the part and brings a slow-creeping humanity to a deceptively multi-faceted role.
There will be those who struggle with aspects of the film’s internal machinations, especially as it flirts increasingly with metaphysics and more traditionally sci-fi elements in its second half. However, the ride as a whole is creative enough to largely overcome its somewhat unclear set of rules. And typically, some well-spiced flecks of surreal humour don’t hurt, either.
It’s worth reiterating that Freaks was clearly crafted on a low budget, as evidenced by its frequently flat digital cinematography and relatively mixed bag of visual effects. Sensibly, however, the filmmakers keep the focus tight on their actors’ expressive faces, and make spare yet effective use of CGI for displaying some of the more supernatural happenings that occur later in the film.
That directors on such a small budget would even attempt to deliver such an action-heavy third act is, honestly, shocking, and while the visuals aren’t always up to par, the ambition and the gall to even try is absolutely admirable.
The spectacle is generally enough to distract from the sometimes disorientating storytelling – again, with a lack of clear rules – and even when not, the remarkable performances from Kolker, Hirsch and Dern ensure the human element never takes a backseat to the more out-there flourishes.
Though its logic doesn’t always fully track, Freaks is an impressive, well-acted effort operating under evidently limited resources.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.