Freaks is the movie version of a flower. It starts small, constricted, and mysterious. But as it grows, it opens up, gets brighter, and reveals itself as something beautiful. Written and directed by Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky, Freaks is about family, heroes, and society. It’s filled with familiar elements, to be sure, but those are mostly used to buck expectations in order to tell a surprisingly heartfelt sci-fi story.
The film begins with a father (Emile Hirsch) and daughter (Lexy Kolker) secretly hiding in a house. Dad tells his daughter, named Chloe, they can’t go outside because people want to kill them. Whether or not that’s true, at least at the start, is up for debate, and the mystery sets the tone for what’s to come. More and more questions about these two enigmatic characters and their circumstances begin to pile up, building edge-of-your-seat suspense and tension, until Chloe can’t take it anymore. She decides to go outside against her father’s wishes and, in doing so, sets off a chain reaction with worldwide ramifications.
One of the first mysteries solved by the film is that Chloe is different because she has special abilities. In fact, this is a world—sort of like the X-Men universe—where the majority of humans are “normal” and a minority have powers, which is why people call them “freaks.” And while Stein and Lipovsky could have easily taken that conceit and turned it into an allegory for racism, that’s left mostly implicit. Explicitly, Freaks explores what that kind of dichotomy does to a family, particularly the relationship between a father and daughter.
The father-daughter relationship serves as the glue that keeps the constantly expanding story together. Chloe soon realizes she’s more special than she could ever imagine, which triggers reveals about other “freaks” and the world around them. Soon, we’re curious not just about the main characters, but the world at large, and the stakes grow exponentially—leading to some memorable set pieces, mostly in the third act.
In comparison to that, the first quarter of the film feels a little tedious, simply because so much about the story and characters is left vague for so long. By the end though, it’s fairly obvious why Stein and Lipovsky have structured it that way. The longer they withhold information, the more rewarding the payoffs are when they come toward the end. And the strategy works, as the final act is packed with sprawling action that’s intense, emotional, and exciting. Just know, it takes a little bit to get there.
As Chloe, Kolker is about as captivating a young star as we’ve seen in a long time. She displays an impressive range of emotions and charisma, especially for a seven-year-old. Hirsch is intimidating as the father, a man with more secrets than he cares to admit. Bruce Dern gives an equally creepy performance as a character named “Mr. Snowcone,” and Amanda Crew and Grace Park are perfect in their very spoilery roles.
At times, Freaks can feel like a film limited by budget. If this were a studio movie, it would have been so much grander. However, while that might be the case visually, it’s never the case narratively. Stein and Lipovsky stuff Freaks with limitless imagination, finding ways to execute their loftier ambitions. It’s a film filled with complex, robust ideas that not only have a unique twist to them but a realistic grounding that makes them more relatable and impactful. It’s a wonderful, exciting film.
Freaks recently had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and was picked up for distribution by Well Go USA. It does not yet have a release date, but will be getting one.