A mysterious girl is forbidden to leave her house by her father.
Directed by Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky
Starring Lexy Kolker, Emile Hirsch, and Bruce Dern
Review by Jon Kissel
If superhero movies are going to continue to dominate the movie landscape, there’ll be plenty of lo-fi auditions like this one coming out of indie land. There’s ample precedence of directors of big MCU properties getting their big breaks after making one or two micro-budget films, and it sure seems like Stein and Lipovsky are making a naked play to join those ranks. Their output here is satisfactory if unmemorable, though they make it as hard to sympathize with Freaks’ Anne-Frank-equivalent as possible. A lot of bystanders are killed in Freaks, and I’m not just talking about the jack-booted thugs in riot gear. Grandpa Dern and Chloe both frame a civilian to be murdered. Chloe uses her powers on a neighbor girl in a creepy way, and while there’s definitely something to a super-powered child using their powers for evil because how could they not, the film puts its finger on the scale by having Chloe’s victim be costumed like a mean girl fresh from the pageant circuit. This is a film that wants to be edgy but just ends up being cruel, and that muddling makes it difficult to invest in any of the proceedings.
Another work about supernatural beings living among us, True Blood, always had pretensions of being a metaphor for oppressed groups, specifically LGBT groups, but that show’s queer stand-ins were actively feasting on humans and manipulating society to their own ends. It’s not a great metaphor if it’s living into the worst fears of bigots. Similarly, Freaks wants to elicit comparisons to underground groups by using the language of undocumented immigrants. That impulse is well and good, but again, maybe don’t have the subject of your social justice statement be actively dangerous if you’re so obviously going to try for goodwill PC points. That ill-consideration is indicative of Freaks’ inability to convince me to care about anything that happens in the film. I welcome on-the-cheap attempts to capitalize on superhero movies. Fast Color is a recent and successful example of exactly that. This is mercenary imitation that doesn’t justify its own existence, especially when I can use the same streaming service to watch what it’s based on. C-