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“Freaks” Is An All Around Surprising Genre Effort

Science fiction on a budget can be tricky sometimes to properly pull off. There are countless instances where not having the required resources can compromise an otherwise extravagant vision. However, there are also plenty of times where working without a ton of money can lead to extra creativity. Here, with Freaks, the small budget actually is a boon to the project. Focusing in on the quartet of main cast members, as well as the unseen implications of the concept, leads to a truly engaging experience. Whereas the X-Men franchise has gone off the rails as it got more and more expensive, this little film is actually far superior, for a fraction of the price tag.

Taking place after an unseen but often mentioned cataclysmic event, the world now has a number of “freaks” in it, dubbed “abnormals” by the government and hunted down/imprisoned, when they’re not just out and out killed. Essentially, these are mutants. For seven year old Chloe (Lexy Kolker), none of this matters, despite the dire warnings by her father (Emile Hirsch). He keeps training her to be weary of the outside world, but keeping her locked away has just made her all the more curious. Wondering about her mother and craving human interaction, Chloe is susceptible to the wooing of Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern), who offers her a glimpse at what’s really going on. Who is he and why does he know Chloe? What’s so special about her? All of this gets answered early on, leading to some curiosity about what could happen next. Luckily, the third act is where it really gets good. Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein handle writing and directing duties, with music by Tim Wynn and Stirling Bancroft behind the camera doing the cinematography. Supporting players include Amanda Crew, Grace Park, and more.

While Bruce Dern and Emile Hirsch are quite good, young Lexy Kolker is a true revelation. Along with Amanda Crew, they make for four quite capable actors to anchor this high concept in some emotional reality. The film gives Dern and Hirsch more to do than many others have (aside from Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, too many projects don’t know what to do with the national treasure that is Dern), while firmly putting Kolker on the cinematic radar. Her innocence and slow introduction to her powers is handled wonderfully, not just by the filmmakers, but by Kolker herself. The sky is the limit for this little girl.

Freaks is an excellent calling card for filmmakers Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein. They deserve to be given even more freedom the next time out. Their script and their direction show a confident handling of tricky material. Lipovsky and Stein focus on the actors and actresses, filling in the margins with hints about the spectacle around them, and it’s a fantastic decision on their part. When they decide to expand the scope somewhat, it’s fascinating. However, they’re at their best when focusing on their young protagonist. If not for a bit of a slow start to things, I would have out and out loved this flick.

This Friday, audiences looking for some quality sci-fi would do well to seek out Freaks. Anyone bemoaning the lack of quality roles for Dern and/or Hirsch will be in for a treat here. The movie upends a lot of your expectations, while still engaging with genre trappings in a really interesting way. Again, films with ten times the budget don’t always manage to handle this sort of material with such a deft hand. Kudos to all involved for executing the premise in this way. Give this one a shot and you’ll almost certainly be pleasantly surprised by what you’ll find. It’s really a cut above.

Be sure to check out Freaks, in theaters this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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