This is a repost of our review from Fantasia Festival 2019. Freaks opens in theaters Friday.
From its opening act Freaks appears to be a film about an overprotective father attempting to protect his daughter from some unknown horror outside their ramshackle dwelling, but looks can be deceiving. Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein’s genre-bender is the type of movie best seen cold, with no knowledge of any plot details beforehand, in order to truly benefit from its wild thematic shifts.
The film begins with a seemingly paranoid father (Emile Hirsch) who is preventing his young daughter, Chloe, played by Lexy Kolker, from leaving their domicile, which looks like the squalid, dark home of a squatter.
Chloe longs for the bright, summoning warmth of the outside world but is warned against leaving her home for fear that she would be hurt or killed by outsiders. She frequently has visions of her mother (Amanda Crew), whom she has been told is dead, and does what she can to keep herself occupied, despite her growing urge to escape her confines. After being enticed by the neighborhood ice cream man, played by the incomparable Bruce Dern, Chloe sneaks out of the house, setting in motion a series of events that will change her life forever.
Blending a multitude of genres, Freaks is a deceptive film by design. It starts off as one thing and gradually morphs into something else…something unexpected and wholly unique that plants the seeds of a world that almost begs to have more exploration.
For as much bombast as the film’s latter moments contain, there’s an even greater amount of emotional heft brought into the narrative, thanks in large part to Kolker. This young actress is forced to deal with some pretty heavy subject matter, and she does so with a level of realism and ease that’s rare for any actor to sell, let alone someone so young.
Lipovsky and Stein dole out hints to the secrets held within Freaks at an even enough clip, enough to keep the audience engaged but not showing their hand too early so as to prevent the more climactic moments from landing with a thud. Some may find the disparity in style to be too jarring, considering the direction it takes, but I found myself surprised and delighted as to where it went, leaving me wanting more.
From the marketing material and even the title itself, Freaks portrays itself as a horror-thriller, and while it does contain those elements, the end experience is decidedly different. This may disappoint some, but I thought it worked incredibly well. The themes contained within are nothing we haven’t seen before, but they somehow feel more relevant than ever, given the tumultuous times we live in. This is an easy recommendation, with the caveat you go into it blind and, accordingly, divulge no details to your friends before they see it.