Glasgow Frightest: ‘Freaks’ reviewed

The legendary Bruce Dern keeps the audience on edge and newcomer Lexy Kolker gives a fantastic performance.

 “To give too much away would spoil the pleasures of discovering for yourself the film’s clever mysteries which it unveils in an enticing and exciting fashion… In this age of spoiler filled, cinema-info overload, Freaks is that rare treat; a mysterious, exciting package that actually pays off conceptually and emotionally.”

How to review Freaks, co-directed and written by Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein, without giving anything away yet trying to keep you the reader interested? Given pride of place in Glasgow Frightfest’s 2019 Saturday evening slot, the organisers kept their cards close to their chest with a bare bones synopsis that nonetheless managed to attract a sell-out screening. Judging by the reception it was a gambit that paid off successfully and will hopefully garner similar devotion when unleashed on a hopefully larger audience once it has concluded its festival run.

Directors Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky.

The bare bones premise involves an unnamed father, Emile Hirsch, and his seven-year-old daughter Chloe, Lexy Kolker, dwelling within a dilapidated, suburban house. Chloe has never set foot outside, per her father’s orders. To do so would attract death and destruction. Right away the audience is unsure of Hirsch’s motives and his actual, familial links to Chloe. Despite his warnings, the bright, leafy street outside seems perfectly benign enough, even if birds regularly halt mid-flight in the sky and the elderly ice cream man, Mr Snowcone, seems very interested in getting Chloe to pay him a visit. That Mr Snowcone is played by Bruce Dern just goes to show that events could go either way.

To give anymore away would spoil the pleasures of discovering for yourself the film’s clever mysteries which it unveils in an enticing and exciting fashion. To even reveal the film’s genre would give too much away. In this age of spoiler filled, cinema-info overload, Freaks is that rare treat; a mysterious, exciting package that actually pays off conceptually and emotionally.

What can also be revealed here is the quality of the performances. Hirsch, after his troubling offscreen behaviour from a couple of years ago, gives an engaging performance as the father. Alternately doting and/or chastising his daughter, while constantly chugging energy drinks and cereal he manages to enforce the film’s enigmatic nature whilst Dern keeps the audience on edge with an irascible performance that is simultaneously sinister and affecting. As Chloe, Lexy Kolker gives a fantastic performance that the entire narrative revolves around. This is a child’s performance that reminds the viewer of a young Haley Joel Osment, running the gamut from confused and scared to empowered and intimidating. She constantly hits the right notes.

Getting such a high calibre of performances from these different generations of actors is impressive enough but Lipovsky and Stein, who met on Steven Spielberg’s talent contest On The Lot before Lipovsky went on to direct Leprechaun: Origins, also display an assured sense of style and pace. That such a high concept, whatever it may be, is displayed, with such verve and imagination and on a low budget shows that this is a directing duo to keep an eye on in the future. Set pieces involving impressive visual effects sit comfortably alongside such scenes as that of an interrupted dinner that soon transforms itself into a tension filled, squirm inducing confrontation loaded with a disturbingly prescient political subtext that carries over the rest of the film.

If there is any justice Freaks will break them out of the ghetto of directing kids’ television that they mainly work in and get them into the big leagues. They prove without a doubt with this whip-smart, sky-high genre take on the domestic thriller they can easily match the likes of JJ Abrams and the stable of talent he has cultivated that Freaks recalls and evokes.

Try and avoid spoilers at all costs. If you manage it, you will be rewarded with one of the most exciting and interesting pieces of [REDACTED] cinema in years.


 FREAKS received its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Saturday 2 March, 9.00pm, as part of Arrow Video FrightFest Glasgow 2019.

❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.

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