Review: FREAKS is the best X-Men Movie Never Made
The idea of super powered humans isn’t new. It’s been explored for decades in popular culture, most notably in X-Men, and the comic about the next step in humanity has often served as a benchmark for the story. What happens when people start changing, evolving? How will humankind react to it. Will these people be treated as normal or will mankind fear and misunderstand them? Freaks is here to answer that question on a broad level, yes, but also to inspect it from an extremely close-up view.
Chloe only knows the confines of her house. Boarded up, hodge podge taped over windows, an ugly yellow tint in a house that is largely kept together with scraps and miscellania, her father relegates her to their home with stories of bad guys who want nothing more than to kill them both. Chloe wants nothing more than to explore the outside world, and as she starts to develop new found powers, she gains more exposure to the planet outside her door. Is her father paranoid, overprotective and possibly abusive or is their truth behind his outlandish stories?
Tandem directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein have lots of time together, ranging from the Disney channel live action version of Kim Possible to the swing-and-a-miss Leprechaun Origins, they’ve covered a lot of different territory with mixed results. While they have had a few hits before, it’s safe to say that Freaks is a home run. Lipovsky and Stein manage two different things so perfectly that it helps create the tension, emotion and impact that bleeds throughout Freaks, and that’s their management over pacing and camera. They remain mostly tight lipped throughout the story of the film, allowing the viewer hints and clues here and there, baiting them with just enough information that you’ll never find yourself frustrated with lack of development but instead bite sized bits that keep you intrigued throughout without spilling their guts in the first or even second act. It’s a puzzle and the picture slowly becomes more clear, with satisfying and well placed story beats.
Lipovsky and Stein also have deft precision of their camera work, making an intimate and impactful portrayal of family, danger and powers. It’s the strangest trifecta you could ever imagine having to balance but they do so perfectly. Astonishing things are happening but the scope seems so personal that the entire film is grounded in a reality that creates for one of the most interesting takes on superpowers ever put to film. The script and story are beautiful, tapping into comic masters like Claremont and Nicieza, painting a picture of extraordinary circumstances in an ordinary world. It’s this blend of camera work and screenplay perfection that help Freaks feel like the best X-Men story never written.
The movie wouldn’t work as well as it does it not for the tremendous cast. While Grace Park’s Agent Ray is a certifiably dislikable antagonist, that’s not where the real drama of the movie lies. Instead it’s within the intrapersonal relationships of a disjointed family. Emile Hirsch delivers one of his best performances, playing the scruffy out on his luck dad, having to bounce between abrasively paranoid and affectionate father. His tics and delivery will have you questioning his true allegiances well into the start of the third act. Bruce Dern is outstanding, there’s no other word for it. Masquerading as an ice cream man, Dern takes what Hirsch is doing and amplifies it, allowing years more of experience to help churn out perhaps one of his best roles. Amanda Crew pops in for a bit in a strong supporting role as well, which she does so with poignancy and heart, but Freaks is completely carried on the back of Lexy Kolker, who plays our lead Chloe.
Kolker is ten years old this year and here’s a fact of the matter: she doesn’t just deliver a stand out performance, she elevates this film entirely with it. She’s mesmerizing. She’s just a kid who doesn’t understand the world that she exists in and has to step into this role that carries so much power within in; she’s as adorable and charming as you would imagine from such a young actor but what’s truly stunning is how you can feel the power that resides within Chloe via her acting. You can feel every ounce of emotion, heart, hurt and strength that exists within Chloe because of Kolker’s delivery.
Freaks really seems basic in its premise. It’s a twist of a story we have seen many times. What makes it different is the expert technique Lipovsky and Stein apply to every minute of screen time, perfectly capturing a family drama hidden within a fantasy film. The cast should all be commended by Kolker should be drawing nods like Tremblay post Room, it’s just that damn good. Freaks is one of the most emotional, powerful family dramas of recent memory wrapped inside the dressings of a nuanced superhero movie and it’s an absolute must see.