(Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein’s Freaks is available now on VOD. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
Legion meets 10 Cloverfield Lane in this entertaining low-budget sci-fi film from Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein, the directors of the upcoming Kim Possible live action reboot. Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild) plays the hyper-protective father of a 7-year-old girl with supernatural gifts. Hirsch’s character, known only as “Dad”, harbors Chloe (Lexy Kolker, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) in a derelict suburban home. Liberal use of bedsheets and duct tape imply that even a glimpse from an outsider could destroy them. We follow the story through Chloe’s perspective, so the particulars of their peril are hazy at first. When Chloe peeks outside, the view of an idyllic neighborhood and an ice cream truck don’t match the apocalyptic horror Dad infers when he returns from armed-and-desperate trips to the grocery store. Chloe eyes the outside world with longing, especially after Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) tempts her with a custom illustrated picture book that suggests she’s an imprisoned princess. Choe becomes increasingly suspicious of Dad’s motives, especially during her punitive time-outs in a possibly haunted closet, and hatches a plan for independence.
But the audience knows Dad’s paranoia isn’t completely unwarranted thanks to glimpses of TV news reports about terrorist attacks and drone bombings. Also, Dad is desperate to never fall asleep and occasionally bleeds from his eyes. To pass the time, they play poker with real stacks of large bills and Dad quizzes daughter on her cover story that will come into play if something happens to him. She is to lie about her name, her family, and even her hobbies, and take refuge with a neighboring family. Everything they do together, from games, to drawing, to reading children’s books, is in the service of training her for his inevitable and sudden absence. Dad is clearly keeping something from Chloe, but he tells her enough to give her what he believes to be a healthy level of distrust. There are people out there who want to kill them because they are different. But he also tells her things that are blatant lies, like that Mr. Snowcone’s truck is filled with the bodies of children just like her.
As Chloe figures out more about her situation, her supposedly deceased mother, and the extent of her abilities, she craves answers and develops a rebellious streak which puts her in and her father in danger. Dad seems harsh at times, but he walks a fine parenting line of having to explain why the world can be dangerous. We don’t want to scare them, but we want them to be just afraid enough to listen to us.
Grace Park (Battlestar Galactica) also stars as a government agent with a platform of tolerance but a secretly nefarious agenda.
My favorite thing about Freaks is the way it harkens back to the starter genre films of my youth, like Escape to Witch Mountain, Anna to the Infinite Power, The Watcher in the Woods, and of course, Firestarter. You have a mysterious, slightly gruff senior mentor, an over-protective, struggling single dad, a mom who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, a clandestine government agency, and a young girl with a supernatural temper. The only thing missing is Bette Davis.
There’s not of new territory here. Freaks borrows liberally from the X-Men franchise. Low-budget filmmaking hides behind a veneer of art house. But, for the most part, it tells a good story and is a thought-provoking way to spend 90-ish minutes. It’s very smart to use Chloe’s limited POV and let the mythology reveal itself naturally. Mutants or “Abnormals” or whatever you want to call them are always a good stand-in for the gambit of social injustices. Maybe these stories will seem tired if we ever find ourselves in a world where they’re no longer thematically relevant. For now, I think there’s value in all of them. Especially if they make an effort to find new ways to deliver them.
Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not pay just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?
– Jessica Baxter (@tehBaxter)