What if a man locked a little girl in a house for a good reason?
Sometimes I can judge a movie solely on the amount of notes I take. More notes means I'm either taken out of the narrative by something I saw; less notes means I forgot I should be taking notes. Freaks tells the story of a man and his daughter Chloe. He has her locked in an abandoned house, telling her if she goes outside men will kill her. Then an ice cream man starts sending messages through the letter slot. What follows is a science fiction plot so twisty and turny that, yeah, my notes faltered. It's tense, kinda shaky in the execution, but well told and acted.
Don't look at any promotion for the movie, just find this movie and check it out. Here's my notes and what I was thinking when I took them.
Smart kid, poker and lies
Right off the bat we meet a smart, precocious kid being taught by her father to remember weird information, play poker, and lie about who she is. It's intriguing to say the least.
Burning outside, information
Very little information comes from outside the house but what we get is muddled. I can't remember if there's much about things being on fire, but the outside appears calm and collected while inside the house is chaotic and tense.
Elenor (Chloe) has powers
The first time we meet people outside the house, the ice cream man and the blonde neighbor girl, Chloe is watching them. We get a sense from things she knows that she's talked to them before, but then she wants some ice cream. And the blonde girl turns robot-like and brings it to the house. It could have been an outside creepy, but from the way the young actress pulls off the scene we are lead to believe she's doing it. She's making the blonde girl bring her the ice cream. It's creepy on every level as doubt seeps in if the father is protecting Chloe from the world or the other way around.
Time when he sleeps
Boom, a big twist that floored me. Dad has powers, too, although at this point it was unclear if he could control them. When he's awake, time seems to stop outside the house. When he sleeps, birds begin to fly again and everything continues. The effect is shown and not told, making this suddenly a spectacular film about people with abilities.
Room + Firestarter
At this point I just got excited. If I were to describe this movie to someone who gleaned the higher level twists, I would describe this movie as Room meets Firestarter. A young girl with powers is held captive in a house to protect her from the outside world.
Dad raised her out of time
Some people probably gleaned this way ahead of time, but this kinda blew my mind when I figured it out. Her dad can control time in his immediate area, so when he's awake he stops time around the house. While to the outside world Chloe was born days or weeks ago, she's aged at least six years. It's a common enough trope in comic books, but hot damn to have it be a central yet not truly focused on part of the movie is amazing storytelling, especially in the way her grandfather and mother react to her.
Unintended Dern humor cursing?
Bruce Dern is a treasure, acting his ass off in every movie he's in. Here, as a grieving father wanting to get his daughter back from government men in black types, it's kinda weird in tone. He acknowledges Chloe as his granddaughter, teaches her a bit, but is a full on asshole that curses at her. Sometimes it is definitely played for laughs, but others it feels like he's a grumpy Archie Bunker that we are supposed to feel bad for but don't because of the earlier callous humor.
Awesome simple effect
There's some amazing staged effects in this movie, from the time travel to the use of Chloe's mind control powers from afar. The composite shots of Chloe, her dad, her mom, and the guard all frozen is amazing.
Near the end I started getting super strong vibes of that Twilight Zone plot where everyone is trapped with the kid who can bend reality. Chloe starts exhibiting wild tendencies that display her youth, i.e. lack of morality as a child. Let's just say Dad needs to have the 'great power, great responsibility' talk super fast with the little girl with mind-control powers.
Odd tone "Just a second"
Again with Dern's cursing, sometimes the tone does feel a bit off. I think, my memory of exact moments is faltering, but there's a time joke in the middle of a very tense scene where multiple dramatic things are happening. Nothing wrong with jokes to relieve tension, but sometimes the joke is more distracting that relieving.