FREAKS (9/13/2019)
Directors: Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern, Lexy Kolker

My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 87% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A sheltered young girl (Kolker) discovers a bizarre, threatening, and mysterious new world beyond her front door after she escapes her father’s protective and paranoid control.

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In the tradition of one of my very favorite sci-fi films (“Midnight Special”, 2016), “Freaks” is a sci-fi mystery that doesn’t pander, doesn’t spoon-feed (except when it HAS to), and doesn’t insult my intelligence. It premiered a year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, was picked up by a distributor two days later, and surfed the festival circuit for over a year, winning multiple awards, before finally getting a US/Canada release.

The story opens with a young girl, Chloe, who lives in a ramshackle house, with covered windows and locked doors, with her father. She takes a peek out the window through curtains that have been duct-taped to the windowsill and sees an ice cream truck outside; in the sky above she spots birds that seem to be…frozen in place? Hm. THAT’S weird.

As the opening section unfolds, we learn that the father is doing everything in his power to keep his daughter safe from something dangerous in the world outside their front door. (She has rarely, if ever, even set foot outside.) The movie is cagey at this point about explaining exactly what that something is, and immediately I thought, “Aw, man…is this gonna be another rip-off of ‘A Quiet Place’?” The father walks around the house performing maintenance on drapes and boards and locks, and constantly reminding her daughter how dangerous it is outside, and how he’s doing all this to keep her safe. Shades of “Stranger Things”, right?

So the first couple of acts of the movie felt like rip-offs of…sorry, homages to previous contemporary sci-fi entertainments. The girl portraying Chloe delivers a fantastic, natural performance, but that wasn’t enough for me to shake that feeling of, “Man, I’ve seen all this before.”

At random intervals, Chloe starts to see things. People in her room, in her closet. Sometimes these people talk to her, and she talks back. Are they ghosts? We’ve learned that Chloe’s mother is dead…could one of these visions be her mother? And what’s the story with that weird ice cream truck at the beginning, with the creepy, smiling old man who seems to know more than he’s letting on?

These are all threads that make you THINK you know where the story is headed, and you may or may not be right. You may already think you know what the rest of the movie’s about just based on my description above. Fair enough.

As for me, I was bamboozled when the true nature of the girl, her father, and the world outside her house was revealed. I’m not talking about a “Sixth Sense” kind of reveal that’s kept a secret until the last 5 minutes of the movie. This movie makes its “reveal” with about an hour left (I’m guesstimating), so I basically felt like I got two movies in one. Or maybe two episodes of an EXCELLENT cable miniseries. Once the “reveal” is, well, revealed, the movie shifts into a high gear and doesn’t ease off until literally the final frame.

The joy of the film is that reveal at the halfway point, and what they do with it afterwards, so it’s extremely hard to know what else I can say without spoiling the fun of discovering it for yourself. I could mention the visual effects, which are relatively minimal, but EXTREMELY effective, especially during the finale. I could mention the screenplay’s deliberate attempts to make certain plot points analogous to the current immigration debate. (I’m gonna mangle this, but one of the lines goes something like, “If you attempt forced relocation, that will only force them underground.”) I could mention the way certain clues are hidden in plain sight, once you get to the endgame of the movie.

But you won’t get another word from me about the story. You deserve to discover this one yourself. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It’s not quite a PERFECT film, but what are you gonna do, they can’t all be “Midnight Special.” I never saw one trailer, not one Facebook ad or YouTube video about “Freaks.” I only saw it by pure luck tonight because the showing was at a better time than “Ready or Not.”

I’m telling you. Seek this one out before it leaves theaters. It’s a winner.