Review: TIFF 2018: ‘Freaks’ never settles for the expected Special

Posted Sep 12, 2018 by Sarah Gopaul
‘Freaks’ is a thriller that unexpectedly turns into a science fiction narrative, while providing commentary on the current state of affairs.
A scene from  Freaks
A scene from 'Freaks'
Throughout its history, the cinema has not only been a source of entertainment, but a place to creatively explore social and political issues. Genre films have been especially employed for this purpose, using fictional characters, creatures and worlds as metaphors for real-life problems. The violence in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was indicative of the strife in Middle America, while Avatar dealt with issues of climate change and environmental conservation. People that don’t watch the news may be more open to seeing these subjects handled in a film rather than a news article. Science fiction is a pillar of commentary filmmaking and Freaks is certainly making a statement.
Henry (Emile Hirsch) and his daughter, Chloe (Lexy Kolker), live alone in a derelict house, hiding from “the bad people who want to kill them.” He hasn’t told her much else, raising her on the belief that if she steps outside her door she will be murdered almost instantaneously. Yet, for the inevitable day when she has to reintegrate into the world, Henry gives Chloe lessons about being normal, which is a hard sell since she lacks most of the social skills of her peers with whom she’s never been allowed to play. But Chloe has a scary closet in which people come to visit her, though they’re not always nice. At seven years old, she’s grown restless and skeptical of her father’s rules — she wants to go outside… now.
This movie makes an impeccably seamless transition from a horror/thriller to an action sci-fi that’ll have viewers enthralled from start to finish. Since Henry doesn’t let Chloe leave the house, audiences have no idea what lies on the other side of the bolted door. He goes out as necessary for supplies, but where he acquires them is a mystery. Yet, he’s adamant the outside world is out to get them even though he won’t reveal why. There’s also Chloe’s hauntingly realistic dreams and nightmares that add another element of intrigue to the story.
Then the tale takes a turn and a strange man in an ice cream truck (Bruce Dern) insists he can give Chloe a better life, as well as repair her broken family. The characters’ secrets are exposed and it becomes a cross between a Twilight Zone episode and a Marvel storyline. The latter has done an excellent job highlighting the persecution of “the other” throughout society and this narrative sets out to do the same with a story that has a lot of grey areas. While the struggle with some decisions, they make others that should be difficult too easily, which creates some very interesting moral dilemmas for the characters and the audience.
More than once viewers will think they’ve seen this type of movie before and then the film will find a way to surprise them. Kolker’s performance is outstanding as she conveys the complexities of Chloe’s circumstances, while also portraying everything through the eyes of an impetuous child unable to control her emotions. The script is intelligent with genuine character development and enough wit to occasionally illuminate the darkness. Genre fans will not be disappointed with this hybrid production.
Freaks had its world premiere in the Discovery category at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2018 coverage.
Directors: Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Bruce Dern and Lexy Kolker