Freaks is a highly allegorical tale that combines comic book fantasy, sci-fi tropes, and political metaphor that vacillate between being effective and messy. It’s a work of great ideas where the execution isn’t always up to the ambition.
The story surrounds a father (Emile Hirsch) and his daughter, Chloe (Lexy Kolker), who are locked up in a dilapidated home. They’re sheltering from outside forces that we don’t quite understand. The film parses out details incrementally to amplify the mood of paranoia and concern.
When an ice cream man (Bruce Dern) lures Chloe outside, it sets off a chain reaction where we learn what is transpiring with these two characters, the connections they have with one another, and the reasons for needing to be isolated from a hostile world.
A great deal of the effectiveness of the film comes from this teasing of plot elements. When we do find out what’s going on, a lot of the impact is lost. These early moments of listless investigation give the movie much of its power, and I worry that audiences going in with specific expectations will find not much that they can’t see on a number of episodic television shows that deal with similar topics.
Still, as a kind of old-school sci-fi thought experiment, complete with heightened performances and a wild visual style, Freaks has many ingredients that impress. Hirsch almost pulls off the manic father role, only occasionally going too far as his fears and concerns are made manifest. It’s a broad performance and its manic nature becomes tiresome at times.
Mild missteps like that prevent Freaks from completely nailing what it’s trying to accomplish. However, following the likes of many other movies of this ilk, it manages to tell a familiar story in relatively unfamiliar ways. That’s one of the hardest parts of this kind of storytelling. While it may not be entirely successful, there’s certainly loads to celebrate about the debut from co-writer/directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein.