The modern cinematic landscape can feel a little… homogenised at times. Most films seem to be superhero blockbusters, adaptations of popular YA novels or cringingly mawkish Oscar bait. It’s hard not to be nostalgic for ‘middle class’ movies, ie. medium-budgeted flicks based on original screenplays and untethered to larger franchises. You’ll find plenty of them on streaming services, mind you, but precious few at the old picture house. Freaks, happily, is a great example of the value of said flicks, and illustrates beautifully why we miss them.
Freaks tells the tale of Chloe (Lexy Kolker), a young girl who apparently never leaves her house, thanks to the intervention of Dad (Emile Hirsch), who is either protecting her from a dangerous world outside the four walls of home or is, in fact, severely mentally ill and imprisoning her. This elegant set up gives the first half of Freaks a lot of tension and weight, but it also makes the plot difficult to discuss without spoiling, and this is the type of film that’s best to see without preconceptions. Needless to say, the story evolves along the way, and everything is thrown into a new light when Chloe braves the outside world and meets Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern), who does a lot more than just flog Paddle Pops…
Freaks, from directors Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky, is a film that consistently punches above its weight. It’s directed with style and panache that far exceeds its budget level and features excellent performances from all, with young Lexy Kolker and Emile Hirsch making a very convincing daughter and father. The story is clever without being convoluted, reaching an exciting, heartfelt climax, and the broader allegorical nature of the themes raised makes it feel like a throwback to the golden age of 1970s sci-fi like Soylent Green (1973) and Logan’s Run (1976), but with a distinctly modern execution.
Freaks is an unexpected gem of a film, well-acted, well-written and well-shot, with timely themes and clever staging. While it’s not likely to change your life, it’s a thoroughly engaging 105 minutes and a nice reminder that ‘middle class’ movies, even though they’re the freakish outliers these days, can be just the ticket.