In just under a month, Disney will finally be releasing The New Mutants, one of the 21st Century Fox’s leftovers acquired by the ‘Mouse House’. A darker take on The X-Men, Fox delayed The New Mutants‘ release multiple times. If you, like Fox and Disney, have been underwhelmed by The New Mutants’ marketing, look no further than Freaks. A joint American-Canadian production, Freaks has slowly made its way onto streaming services despite premiering in September 2018. Another take on ‘gifted individuals’ and xenophobic fear (or is it), Freaks is a breath of fresh air that deserves future cult status.
All seven-year-old Chloe wants is a normal life – friends, sunshine, and ice cream. But Chloe spends her days locked inside her boarded up house. Her father, Henry’, repeatedly warns her that the outside is dangerous. However, Chloe’s world is blown open up when a strange man in a Mr Snowcone truck shows up outside her house. Now the seemingly unstable Henry struggles to keep his daughter locked away from a world that may, or may not, pose a real threat to her.
Freaks Spins a Riveting Blend of Mystery and Science Fiction
After a dozen X-Men movies over the last two decades, you’d assume there wasn’t much left to mine out of the concept. But writer and director duo Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky blend mystery, suspense, and science-fiction into a refreshing story. From its opening moment, Freaks drops you into Chloe’s isolated life and takes a methodical pace at setting its plot points on the table. Initially, Stein and Lipovsky convince you that Henry is psychologically unstable while leaving many details murky. Among its strengths, Freaks doesn’t waste time with lazy exposition. This is a movie that requires attention and patience. Much of the fun in the movie is piecing things together.
But writer and director duo Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky blend mystery, suspense, and science-fiction into a refreshing story.
As a result, Freaks feels like it could go in any number of directions. When ‘Mr Snowcone’ takes Chloe to a park, Stein and Lipovsky play on audience preconceptions, thus creating palpable tension. At other times, when Chloe sees people in her closet and room, you struggle to discern whether it’s simply fantasy or something more. And as these ambiguous story threads come together – which they do – Freaks accelerates from slow-burn to edge-of-your seat thriller. By its climatic finale, Freaks manages to evoke intense suspense and a surprisingly emotional coda. Somewhere in the movie is a socially-charged examination of xenophobia. It’s an idea that’s been done before and, admittedly, underexplored here.
Freaks Proves a Big Budget Isn’t Necessary for a ‘Big Movie’ Feel
Forget overstuffed CGI-fueled action and mayhem. Instead, Freaks illustrates how masterful storytelling and innovative filmmaking can result in a top-notch thriller. In spite of a limited budget, Stein and Lipovsky find ways to introduce the movie’s science fiction elements in innovative ways. In part, Freaks accomplishes this through its clever narrative. We’ve seen superhero characters who can fly or manipulate people’s minds, but Freaks feels grounded. Extraordinary things are contained in the movie’s small world. The result is that these moments actually feel extraordinary. Nothing about the movie looks cheap either.
The violence is sparse, but shocking. Stein and Lipovsky also don’t linger on it, which serves to enhance the impact.
Moreover, the movie’s science-fiction elements are inherently built into its psychology. There’s an ‘a-ha’ moment’ when Freaks reveals one of Chloe’s unique abilities. And when you finally discover Henry’s powers, it forces you to reconsider everything from the movie’s first half while also being incredibly heartbreaking. The violence is sparse, but shocking. Stein and Lipovsky also don’t linger on it, which serves to enhance the impact. Sharp editing and pacing further propel the movie to an emotionally powerful climax.
Wonderful Performances Makes Freaks a Human Story
Another strength of Freaks are the wonderful performances. Though it’s a science-fiction movie it never forgets to put characters and relationships at the forefront. Yes, Freaks glosses over some of its potentially broader themes. Yet it does so by keeping its focus on family and parental love and sacrifice. As the unstable and paranoid ‘Henry Lewis’, Emile Hirsch (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) convinces as a father driven to desperation to protect the only thing he has left. Not surprisingly, veteran actor Bruce Dern keeps audiences guessing with his performance, which makes his character arc equally heartbreaking. Amanda Crew has a smaller role, but it’s an emotionally demanding one that makes the movie’s ending feel incredibly satisfying. Arguably, young Lexy Kolker makes the biggest impression. If Freaks is any indication, Kolker has a very bright future ahead or her.
Freaks an Accomplishment of Unique Story-Telling and Innovative Filmmaking
Kudos to everyone involved with this indie sci-fi thriller. Simply put, Freaks is an accomplishment of innovative filmmaking, clever and unique storytelling, and strong performances. Like other recent sci-thrillers, including Annihilation, Freaks feels like an utterly unique viewing experience. Its story takes you in multiple direction while slowly ramping up the stakes and tension. Some may complain that Stein and Lipovsky miss out on a bigger storytelling message. It’s a valid criticism, but Freaks is more interested in its smaller, human story. Overall, Freaks is engrossing, emotional ride that deserves a bigger audience.