When I first read about Filmmaker Zach Lipovsky’s (Afflicted 2013) film, Freaks, I made a few assumptions about what I was about to watch. I assumed it was about a little girl breaking free from her paranoid father’s grasp and discovering the world for the first time like the little boy in 2015’s Room. I assumed Dad’s suspicious nature was due to some long ago War of the World’s-esque rumor of an alien invasion, and that he kept his daughter “safe” by squirreling her away from the imagined danger outside of their home. Boy, was I wrong.
Coming to us from Wise Daughter Films, My Way Productions and Storyboard Capital Groups, Freaks was co-directed, co-produced and co-written by Zach Lipovsky (Leprechaun Origins 2014) and Adam B. Stein (Nerd Court TV series). Music for this An Amazing Incorporated Production was composed by Supernatural’s Tim Wynn, while the visual effects were created by Chris Orchard (Jackhammer 2013) and Ben Pickles (Father’s Day 2011). The film stars Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild 2007, The Autopsy of Jane Doe 2016 – read our review here), Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight 2015, The ‘Burbs 1989), Lexy Kolker (Shooter TV series, The Little Mermaid 2018), Amanda Crew (A Haunting In Connecticut 2009, Final Destination 2 2006), Ava Telek (Flowers in the Attic 2014), Michelle Harrison (Paycheck 2003) and Grace Park (Hawaii 5-0 TV series, Battlestar Galactica TV series).
In this genre-bending psychological sci-fi thriller, 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.
I love the way this film was shot. Scenes with the paranoid and exhausted dad, Henry (Hirsch), were yellow, faded, dusty and grimy. I could almost smell the desperation and dirty laundry through the screen. It was as if Henry’s dreary, despondent situation spawned the filth like spongy mushrooms growing behind those dark, papered-over windows. Any scene that his daughter, the sweet yet determined Chloe (Kolker), was in – especially those by herself – were clean, crisp and blue like freshly laundered sheets snapping in the breeze. Even subliminally, this yin yang filming technique did wonders to create the mood and bring the emotions of the characters to the surface.
I’ve seen Emile Hirsch in a number of films, from The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002) to 2008’s Speed Racer and Milk to Killer Joe (2011) and everything in between. I’ve been a fan of him since catching him in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild (2007). He was one of the reasons I wanted to see Freaks. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed with his performance in this film. His character’s entire existence revolved around his little girl, and his paranoia of the outside world and concern for keeping her safe left him bone weary and on the verge of despair. Yet, he still kept on, continuously pushing the boulder of responsibility uphill like a contemporary Sisyphus. The exhaustive, Herculean effort Henry had to put in to keep his daughter safe from danger was clear in each of Hirsch’s leaden movements, his body drooping and twitching with raw, fervent, overtired energy. Despite the story happening over a period of mere days, Hirsch deftly portrayed a man who had aged ten years since the movie began.
On the other hand, bright-eyed Chloe, clueless in her naivety, bounced around her father’s feet like an energetic puppy… at least, until she began seeing and interacting with people in her closet who were not really there. For someone whose only experience with an apple is a picture on a flashcard and who has never felt the sun on her face, Kolker’s Chloe was shocked, panicked, frantic… and yet, much more accepting of these new developments than even the most worldly child. The scene where she draws a picture of her mother on a pillow so she can hug it to sleep is one of the saddest I’ve seen in a very long time.
To round off this trio, we have Bruce Dern as Mr. Snowcone. You don’t get much creepier than old, white-haired Mr. Snowcone. What does this guy want with Chloe? It’s honestly pretty tough to figure out what side of the fence the ice cream man stands on, even after finding out who he really is. Bruce Dern strummed the line perfectly, balancing simultaneously between creepy old man and concerned adult.
I would be remiss if I went too far into the story of Freaks, because I don’t want to spoil anything. However, I will mention that there are few movies out there that have as much sci-fi action, mystery and heart as this film does. As the pieces come together, and you find out who Chloe and her dad really are, you realize that every story has two sides, and even the most black and white tale has shades of grey. It’s only after you watch Freaks that you notice the cumulative effect the pieces of the story have on the film, and it’s then that you realize you may have just watched a masterpiece.
Freaks is a beautifully shot, anxiety-fueled sci-fi thriller that ratchets up the tension like a set of medieval thumbscrews. By the end of the film, the realization that there is no Big Bad here, only terrified people trying to do what they think is best, leaves you feeling dejected and disconsolate, no matter who you were rooting for. Do yourself a favor and hunt this one down, as it releases on Friday, September 13th.