The best part of the overly ambitious sci-fi thriller Freaks is Bruce Dern as a creepy Mr. Snowcone ice cream man. At least, that’s what he appears to be at first, before too much plot overpowers a story that would work well as a graphic novel, but on the big screen it’s too much of an overstuffed grab bag of cool new ideas interspersed with familiar tunes.
The writer-director duo of Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein present a dystopian near future/alternate present wherein genetic “freaks” with X-men-like super powers are hiding amongst us in plain sight, fearful of being collected by the government and essentially euthanized for the betterment and safety of all. And that’s why an overly protective and rightly paranoid dad (Emile Hirsch) is concerned that his daughter, Chloe (Lexy Kolker, excellent), will become self-aware of how potentially powerful she is as nosy neighbours, encroaching government agents, and yes, that ominous old guy peddling soft serve, keep creeping closer to their inconspicuous home hideaway.
A lot of Freaks is set in one primary location, but that doesn’t altogether mean it’s a claustrophobic affair. Indeed, there are several standout action sequences thrown in the mix to elevate the film from truly feeling like a cramped chamber piece.
Freaks, especially in the film’s first half, leans heavily upon deliberately obfuscated plot details and revelations (cribbed from the Shyamalan playbook, perhaps?) and it grates as much as it excites. And, despite a mostly strong cast, too many scenes of have people acting obnoxiously and shouting repetitively at each other dampens the fun. But there is fun.
For her part, seven-year-old Kolker more than carries her weight, and in several scenes she’s the star attraction (though one sequence that rips off Brian De Palma’s Carrie results in unintentional laughter rather than the creepy crawlies).
Comic book fans, and those who like the angst-y and maudlin genre fare that the Divergent and the Maze Runner films offer might really like Freaks, and it tries awfully hard to please its audience. The promise of a franchise is highly touted, and more eye-stabbing adventures may await, but if you ask a curmudgeon like me, a prequel where Dern dishes ‘em out at a Tastee Freeze might have more camp and cult value, things this film could achieve if it wasn’t so self-serious for most of its allotted minutes.
Taste of Cinema rating 3 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.