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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: Freaks (2019)

“Freaks” Has Big Ideas For A Small Budget, As It’s Skillfully Accomplished & Is Quite Impressive. While Confusing In It’s Structure, The Film Works Toward A Nice Payoff. The Acting Is Well Done Especially From The Film’s Young Star Lexy Kolker Who Is Outstanding. The Indie Sci-Fi Thriller Is Told In A Thoughtful & Tightly Focused Way. “Freaks” Is Headed For Cult Status. 

Tod Browning’s “Freaks” from 1932, is a classic essential nightmarish horror film. With a cast populated by actual carnival sideshow performers, it’s the rare masterpiece that not only couldn’t, but shouldn’t be remade. Thankfully, the new film “Freaks” is not a remake of the horror classic. The only thing they share in common is the title itself. The two films couldn’t be anymore different. 

“Freaks” had its world premiere on September 8, 2018 at the Toronto International Film Festival, making it’s wide release on September 13th. First time filmmakers Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky, who also serve as the films writers, creates a puzzle-box movie that should not be described as so much as discovered. As the movie begins, 7-year-old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) is living with her father Henry (Emile Hirsch, “Speed Racer”) in a huge, dilapidated house with the windows papered over and a long string of locks on the doors. 

Henry is obsessed with keeping Chloe inside, causing her to never set foot outside. He trains her in an elaborate series of lies about her identity. They have a loving, charming relationship, and he’s clearly put a lot of thought into creating games to keep her entertained and engaged. But he also rambles about the people out to kill them, the people who will get Chloe if she ever pokes her nose past the threshold. “You’re not normal yet! You’ll die if you go outside!” he shouts at her at one point. Henry seems like a sweet and loving dad most of the time. But he’s also paranoid and unpredictable, in ways that seem imminently dangerous.

Glimpses of news footage suggest a violent and disturbing world that clashes strongly with what Chloe sees when she does break the rules and looks out. Meanwhile, an ice cream vendor, known as Mr. Snowcone (played by Bruce Dern) keeps haunting the house, driving a brightly painted pink ice cream truck. When she eventually builds up the courage to defy her father and escape the house, she climbs onto the truck with Mr. Snowcone and discovers the start of an adventure filled with hope, fear, violence and most importantly the truth. Along for the ride is a special agent played by “Hawaii Five-O” star Grace Park, who shows up at the house to ask some discomfiting questions and has a cruise missile at the ready overhead. 

“Freaks” is firmly rooted in sci-fi, But  should pique the interest of anyone who enjoyed “Monsters” (2010), “Looper” (2012) and “10 Cloverfield Lane” (2016). It also suggests something between “Room”, the family drama starring Brie Larson as her child, played by Jacob Tremblay who grows up in a shed where a rapist is holding his mother captive. “Freaks” can be said to also have inspiration from “Dogtooth. The Yorgos Lanthimos’ disturbing drama about a couple who consciously teach their adult children all sorts of bizarre and disturbing things while isolating them from the world.

“Freaks” is told from Chloe’s perspective as it’s intricate details jostles you around with sequences that may or may not be real, like when Chloe talks to a girl her age named Harper. The same goes for a scene where Chloe might be talking to her mother, who suddenly appears in a closet, or it might just be a ghost of her. Occasionally other strange things happen along with Chloe’s visions and interactions, such as when her father bleeds red tears from his eyes.

“Freaks” is in no rush to explain itself or the outside world that her father claims will hurt her. The filmmakers are satisfied with exploring this painstakingly built world bit by bit, unfolding at Chloe’s pace as she becomes aware of and intrigued by a larger society outside her front door. This is not an easy movie to describe and it’s best to let viewers venture into “Freaks” and uncover the details for themselves. After reading everything so far I know what your probably thinking, but don’t worry it all makes sense in the end. 

Emile Hirsch does an amazing job of conveying the paranoia and hysteria, then as the truth is revealed he helps the audience to see his character in a different light. Hirsch and Young actress Lexy Kolker play off of each other very well. You can feel the struggle between them, yet you can also clearly feel the love between father and daughter. It helped that the filmmakers had them hang out before the movie and do father and daughter stuff like go to the zoo.

Most people when they go into the movie, they’re going in because of Emile Hirsch or Bruce Dern. Audiences will come out of it talking about Lexy Kolker. Her character, the headstrong Chloe is reminiscent of a young Drew Barrymore. Lexy Kolker‘s performance as Chloe is confident and nuanced as she comes across as much more than just another generic character.

The filmmakers behind “Freaksmake interesting and striking visual choices. Most evident in the difference between inside and outside Chloe’s home. The shots from inside the house are very dark and dingy as it makes the home appear even more depressing and unfit for a little girl to live in. While the outside world is the exact opposite and is bright and every color is so vidid. The special effects used on a small budget are not as impressive as “Kin” but the visual effects are still stunning including the rare instance where a character outruns an explosion and it actually makes sense. 

“Freaks” is ultimately the the story of Chloe learning the truth about her surroundings and the father and daughter relationship. The filmmakers do a great job of world-building. “Freaks” is all very familiar, especially of late as we have been getting a lot of these type of indie films. Seeing “Freaks” so skillfully accomplished on an indie budget is quite impressive. As it’s told in such a thoughtful, tightly focused way, that could make it a cult hit.

GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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