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‘Freaks’ Review: An Indie Take on a Superhero Setup

Bringing a small budget and a big heart to a dystopian story so familiar it could nestle comfortably inside the “X-Men” franchise, Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky’s “Freaks” wears its derivativeness with pride. Appealing, partly because it’s so unembarrassed by its genre's done-to-death social-injustice themes, this undercooked blend of science fiction and family drama virtually dares you to turn up your nose.

And why would you, when the lighting is so beautiful? Even inside the musty, fortresslike house where 7-year-old Chloe (an amazing Lexy Kolker) lives with her jittery Dad (Emile Hirsch), there’s an aqueous gleam to the roughly shaded windows and the shadows seem cut from velvet. Yet something is not right: Locked inside from birth, Chloe spends her days memorizing a fake identity and learning how to hide. If she ventures out, her seemingly paranoid father tells her, she will be killed.

“Too much time goes by when I’m asleep,” he says, fretfully, though only later will we learn exactly what he means. For now, he’s gathering cash and going on supply runs, leaving Chloe — and the audience — to wonder why his eyes leak blood and why a weeping woman keeps appearing in her closet. And when a strange old man in an ice-cream van (Bruce Dern) finally lures her outside, he’s not just promising a chocolate cone: He wants to take her to meet the mother she believes is dead.

Dropping bread crumbs of a plot — apocalyptic TV news chyrons; a neighbor spying Chloe and exclaiming, “She looks so normal!” — this debut feature unspools its half-formed ideas like teasers for a possible sequel or television series. Its most effective trick, though, is to trap us all inside Chloe’s head, presenting a child’s-eye view of a world gone incomprehensibly mad.


Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes.

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