DIFF Movie Review: ‘Freaks’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

Chloe (Lexy Kolker) spends every day reciting her new identity back to her father (Emile Hirsch). Beneath the names and dates and details, one fact remains paramount: Chloe is Normal. They both say the word with such gravity, such reverence, that in a world of tinned food and blacked-out windows it must require capitalization.

Writer-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein keep the exact reasons for Chloe and her father’s self-imposed exile under wraps for the first half of Freaks, teasing the possibility of mental illness, the supernatural, or just an old-fashioned apocalypse. This uncertainty is made all the more disorienting by the repeated appearances of Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) and his candy-colored ice cream truck.

As unexplained behaviors and dichotomous images pile on, one gets the sense that something truly spectacular and original must be afoot. To describe all of the strange encounters, impossible visions, and nutty dialogue would deprive you of an enjoyable hour’s worth of movie-viewing – if you enjoy being thoroughly unbalanced, that is.

The great disappointment in Freaks comes from its ultimate reveal, when Lipovsky and Stein quit playing games with their audience and barrel forward into a straight-forward narrative that will invoke comparisons to Pixar originals and franchised box office juggernauts alike. As fervently as one wants a resolution to Chloe’s plight, the answers offered are far less interesting than the questions that conjured them.

Kolker deserves the bulk of any offered praise for a performance that anchors a story which often threatens to fly off the proverbial rails. Even if the denouement has unfolded before, Freaks tries to juggle quite a few plots and grand ideas, most of which revolve around Kolker’s isolated little girl. She never once looks overwhelmed or out of place, nor does she give the game away too soon. Dern and Hirsch both play to the rafters, although not enough to tip their performances over into the realm of enjoyable camp.

The first half of Freaks illustrates the future promise of Lipovsky and Stein as storytellers. They build expectations gradually and insistently, with a magnetic blend of restraint and hyperbole. The second half betrays a need for further lessons in the risk of over-promising and under-delivering, as the plot plummets out of its trajectory and settles into a crater of familiar story beats. That initial potential, as well as the wise casting choice of Kolker, singles this team out as one to remember in the future, though.

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