There are some movies that totally and completely blow you away; they somehow manage to peel back any and all emotional calluses and hit you were it hurts the most. After watching them you leave the theater shaking, wondering how long it will take to come back to normal.
Most recently I had this experience in 2015 with “Room,”the incredibly powerful story of a mother and son, the latter of whom has led whole life in a single room, essentially believing that the room is all there was of the world. Four years later, I am still in awe of the film.
This week, the movie “Freaks” hits theaters and there are definite “Room” undertones to it as a lone father played by Emile Hirsch is raising his daughter, Chloe (Lexy Kolker), without her ever venturing outside. The first portion of the film is entirely about the audience trying to understand exactly why this situation persists. Is the father mentally unbalanced? Is the girl unbalanced? What is their history? How did they come to be here? Who is the ice cream man, Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern), who seems to always have his truck parked outside the house? The questions pour out as the film’s writer/director duo Adam Stein & Zach Lipovsky ever so slowly parcel out bits and pieces of information.
Impressively for this sort of film, those answers do not disappoint and a story that started going in one direction turns out to be rather different than many will have expected. Yes, rather than the movie being a letdown as the truth is revealed, it keeps the audience enthralled, but differently so. That is, what was fear for the family turns more into intrigue and suspense mingled with that fear.
Naturally, it would be wrong to say anything about the reveals in the film. I might even caution against doing something as simple as watching the film’s trailer. While it doesn’t give away a lot, even a little may be too much. Honestly, even looking up the genre of the film feels like a cheat.
“Freaks” is a wonderfully constructed movie and one that is best entered into without any sort of preconceived notions. As an example, understanding anything about the characters played by Grace Park or Amanda Crew is a mistake and already says too much.
For such a movie to work, the cast must be fully invested as well, and they are. Hirsch is wonderful as the tightly wound father who quite obviously cares for his daughter but isn’t necessarily doing the best for her… or is he? Is he making the exact right decisions in an impossibly difficult situation? Hirsch keeps the character standing balanced on a knife’s edge, so he is admired by an audience who still remains leery of him and his motives. Dern exudes a sickly sweet menace. Kolker sucks the audience right in, we are instantly drawn to her and her predicament. Although she may seem preternaturally smart for a child the age of Chloe, we still feel every emotion she offers, believing them one and all.
This review is purposefully kept short as revealing much more would serve the film poorly, and I wouldn’t want to do that. No, it isn’t as powerful as “Room,” but it takes some of the basic concepts that make that film work and morphs them into something new and incredible.
photo credit: Well Go USA