Freaks (2018)

Freaks is… something, to say the least. I don’t think I understood every law of nature, paranormal phenomena or mutant related plot point in this narratively nebulous, kaleidoscopic and brazenly unique indie SciFi effort but I can tell you this might be one of the most ambitious things ever attempted with a lower budget, like if a young Chris Nolan did an X Men film with the first signs of his playing with time, space and physics in full blossom. The story tells of a young girl (Lexy Kolker) who has spent the first seven years or so of her life in a strange, dilapidated Vancouver house with her paranoid, protective father (Emilie Hirsch). He keeps her there and tells her of a dangerous world out there that they must not venture out into, for fear of sinister forces that want to hurt them. As she gets older her curiosity coupled with bizarre dreams prompt her to evade his efforts and leave the house, where she finds a threatening world in which her kind are hunted and prosecuted, while a mysterious, benevolent ice cream truck driver (Bruce Dern) who seems to know she is tries his best to help her. That’s only the first ten minutes or so I’ve described and only the tip of a very complex, indescribably reality bending puzzle box of a story that I feel like I’d have to watch at least a half dozen times to properly work out in my THC scorched brain. It concerns a form of time travel, clandestine government agents, harvesting brain material, brain stimulated altered visual perception, multigenerational family ties and how they affect genetic abilities and a plot line that defies the laws of time, space, nature and the act of screenwriting itself. I can’t help but think what they would have wrought here with a blockbuster level budget but I also ponder if that might gloss over the scrappy, lo-fi, boundless charm and careening creativity to be found here. Kolker is a phenomenal young actress and you feel believably alongside her protagonist every step of the way through danger, confusion and self discovery. Hirsch, relegated to fascinating work since his fall from A-list grace, is wonderfully haggard and intense here while Dern is his usual excellent, scene stealing, salt of the earth old self. They’re supported by a host of others including Amanda Crew and Grace Park as a ruthlessly efficient agent. I can’t say I understood the whole thing or was able to follow the multiple crisscrossing story threads entirely but they weave together a tapestry that has to be seen to be believed, and is one impressive effort overall.

-Nate Hill

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