The idea of being normal can be, for some, the very thing they strive for. They can be picked on, bullied, or feel like an outsider, and all they want is to feel that sense of belonging, that sense of being part of something where they are not alone.
Freaks, from filmmakers Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky, takes this idea and spins it into a story of a young girl named Chloe (Lexy Kolker) and her father (Emile Hirsch), both stuck in a house that’s falling apart and with danger lurking at every corner on the outside. Also out there is a man in an ice cream truck, Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern), who hangs around looking for any opportunity to introduce himself.
This all adds up to make your mind race: what does it all mean? Is the father on the run, hiding from something? Is this a kidnapping? Is there something bigger and weirder happening? Freaks manages to captivate from the get-go, making you wonder what it could possibly be.
Freaks is full of interesting ideas, ones that inform its worldbuilding around the edges and leaves the imagination to fill in the blanks. This is one place where the movie excels, since it spends its time filling in these characters and the unique predicament they find themselves in.
But perhaps the film is too ambitious, in the same breath, attempting a mid-budget film on a micro-budget level. Some of it certainly works at this smaller scale, with clever editing and spare but effective special effects, while others feel a little out of grasp and come across as shaky and illogical.
Lexy Kolker makes for an endearing lead as Chloe, able to strike empathy and a just frustration of her situation into her performance. Emile Hirsch, too, is able to bring a level of exhaustion and protection to every scene he’s in, allowing for the two to feel caged inside a cruel world. Bruce Dern is Bruce Dern, and it’s all anyone could ask for, as he picks and prods at scenes and chews the scenery in intriguing ways.
The thing about Freaks is its surprise. It isn’t what you’re expecting, and to say too much would be to spoil that expectation. That surprise, accompanied by its key lead performances, its smart eye for both detail and its narrow field of view, Freaks becomes a success.
Its strength comes in reminding us that the things we want the most are worth fighting for, and despite the cost, it’s always worth it to keep going. Freaks holds that spirit in both its narrative and its bones and elevates the idea to allow a small but efficient film to tell the story of a young girl seeking her place in the world.