Review: ‘Freaks’ (X-menless X-men)

Report abnormal activity — they look just like us.

Chloe (Lexy Kolker) isn’t allowed to go outside of the house; Dad (Emile Hirsch) says things are bad out there. He barely sleeps, and the world outside is different whenever he does. Sometimes she hears the snow cone man (Bruce Dern) out in the street, even seeing the neighbor’s daughter at his truck getting a delicious treat. Sometimes Chloe hears the ghost who wails in her closet — Dad doesn’t believe it exists — and she has to scream at it to make it go away. Dad says one day he’ll have to go away, too. She can live with the neighbors, and their daughter can even be like her sister… but is Dad really telling the truth about why she can’t go outside?

From the above description, it should be clear that there’s a mystery to be solved that the film’s plot hinges upon; anyone wanting to go in with zero hints should stop here; it’s really hard to dance around these spoilers in spite of one’s best efforts. Suffice it to say the setting is the near future, there’s a sci-fi element, civilization is getting less civil, and a shadow war developing between “us and them” is spilling over into neighborhoods even as the government tries to keep it quiet. In a world that doesn’t want you and is taking everything away, would you take everything back if you suddenly found the power to do so… no matter the consequences?

In a box office overrun with superheroes, Marvel’s X-men has been hit and miss: a saga of mutants with powers feared and hated for what they are and what they can do. It’s both a metaphor and a source of drama, but too often the human connection present in the comics that keeps characters relevant is criminally abbreviated in screenplay form. Freaks feels like it could have come from that world or one parallel to it, but because it begins in the situation as observed by those on the inside; Chloe’s journey is the audience’s POV. What fuels this film is the deftness of character development, calculated reveals, and relationship empathy that rarely comes together in a meaningful way like this in genre films.

Co-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein were operating on a tight budget for a film that needed to appear cinema-quality… oddly similar to how the first X-men film got made (and inspired the future MCU). Looking better than The CW’s Arrowverse while falling far short of The Avengers, the production allotted their budget with the precision of the Chiodo Bros. making Killer Klowns from Outer Space. This isn’t to say it couldn’t have benefited from a cash infusion; while it has the ambition of Captive State, the film keeps its worldview narrowed to work within that scope. Where Captive State suffered from feeling abbreviated, Freaks excels, and that speaks highly of the creators.

With Emile Hirsch looking eerily like Jack Black’s younger brother and Bruce Dern gleefully chewing the scenery, the storyline is almost ridiculously intense, but the actors are all game. This leads up to the film’s litmus test in the final act: a father-daughter joke drops that is jarringly silly, thoroughly earned, and entirely needed… and if you laugh, there’s a high probability Freaks has gotten inside your head, too.

Freaks is rated R for violence, some language… and here’s blood in your eye.

Four skull recommendation out of four

πŸ’€ #grmdrpr #moviecryptdotcom #reapingwhathollywoodsows

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