Directed by: Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein
Run time: 105 minutes
The Lowdown: Sometimes it’s difficult to wrap my head around how fortunate we are to be living in such a rich age for original films and television programming.
After decades spent hostage to the watered-down formula of network TV and so many sequels and prequels and threequels at the multiplex, we have finally reached a nirvana-like oasis chock full of rich world-building and risk-taking creative endeavors that aren’t easily categorized or labeled.
Take Freaks, for example.
Is it a horror movie? A science-fiction film? Something else that you might never guess until it’s revealed.
Yes, yes and yes.
Just for the sake of complete transparency, I’m not going to tell you exactly what Freaks is because, honestly, that moment of discovery and realization is too rare and priceless to spoil.
Suffice to say, Freaks does not end where you expect it to, and in reality, the beginning is nothing short of an elaborate, impeccably constructed ruse to keep the film’s central secret just that for as long as possible.
Co-writers/directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein go big or go home, and it’s pretty thrilling to bear witness to, especially considering how slow and strange their movie begins.
Freaks opens with Chloe (Lexy Kolker) doing everything she can just to get out of her house without being detected by her Dad (Emile Hirsch) so she can get some ice cream from Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern, thoroughly creepy).
Dad has boarded up all the windows, installed multiple deadbolt locks on all the doors and is basically raising Chloe in a hermetically sealed environment. Don’t ask why. Just go with it.
When Dad does go outside, he sometimes returns in a panic, wounded and leaking blood from his eyes.
Upstairs, in her room, Chloe also receives frequent visitations from a woman she at first believes is a ghost, but later realizes is her mother.
On the television, grainy, static-filled news reports talk about drone strikes on residential homes and request a moment of silence for as-unexplained attack that leveled Dallas, Texas.
Talk show hosts debate whether abnormals, or freaks, as they’re called, are hiding in society, and why they haven’t all been rounded up and taken to an ominous sounding facility built inside a mountain fortress.
Trust me when I say that patience is rewarded, all questions are answered and by its fantastic, closing shot, Freaks has created a wonderful world that you want to revisit and learn more about.
This is the kind of high-brow genre fare that sadly flies far under most radars, and that’s a crime. In a perfect world, everyone would be talking about Freaks because if ever a film deserved its own franchise, this is the one that I would gladly pay to watch a sequel, a prequel or a threequel to any day.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Minimal.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Our government, go figure.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood (Sony, 161 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film does not disappoint in delivering a kaleidoscope of unexpected treasures as it explores a specific period of time in Hollywood while rewriting certain bits of history in a way that both surprises and delights.
More than anything, Once Upon a Time… offers two stupendous lead performances from Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio that should earn both actors Oscar gold come March.
The natural rapport between the two icons is better than anyone might have hoped, and DiCaprio in particular has never been better (which is saying a lot).
Whether this is your favorite Tarantino film to date is a debate best had over a bottle of bourbon with a fresh pack of smokes because, as it often the case with his work, there are so many subtle nuances to dissect and appreciate that it’s honestly difficult to rank his body of work as anything other than a collective godsend.
It: Chapter Two (Warner Bros., 169 minutes, R, 4K Ultra-HD): It’s unfathomable to me how in just two short years since the release of It, one of the best horror films of the last 10 years, and one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time, the same creative core of talent behind the camera could fumble the ball so spectacularly with the second installment, It: Chapter Two.
The toughest bit of gristle to chew through is the fact that It: Chapter Two is not a bad movie. At all. In fact, if taken as a sum of its parts, there are some sequences in Chapter Two that soar above those in the first film and provide ample nightmare fuel.
The problem is that the movie as a whole doesn’t resonate with the same emotional depth of its predecessor and the third act falters when it should be scaring the shit out of its audience.
I know there’s no way to do It right other than splitting it into two parts, but I didn’t expect this second helping to taste as undercooked as it did.
The Anne Bancroft Collection
The Fly Collection
Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic
The Limits of Control
Now on Video-on-Demand:
The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan (Artist Rights Distribution, 87 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan, the first feature film from longtime genre actor Burt Grinstead, is not unlike a lot of found-footage movies making the rounds on streaming pay-per-view platforms.
It's a crime thriller about a student, Leah Sullivan (Anna Stromberg), who returns home to the northeast to film a documentary about a series of cold case killings known as the Mulcahy Murders, which took place in a long-abandoned home that has since become the local haunted house.
You know right from jump not to expect a happy ending as The Lost Footage… opens with a series of typed sentences explaining that a camera and memory card had been found and whoever found it believes the owner, Leah, is now dead.
Grinstead, who co-stars as Patrick, a local police officer who finds himself assisting Leah’s investigation, takes his time peppering in a handful of creepy moments early on, whether a shadowy figure in a window of the supposedly empty Mulcahy house or an ominous thud-drag-thud noise that Leah starts hearing often when she’s alone.
And, by the time she and Patrick figure out that there might some sort of local conspiracy to hide the truth about the Mulcahy murders, you already have a decent sense of what’s about to happen.
Still, the final 20 minutes of The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan is surprisingly taunt and unnerving, right up until the big reveal, and that’s when unfortunately Grinstead’s found-footage trope fails him the most.
If you’re making a found footage movie, it’s important to consider such key elements as proper lighting and camera position, especially if you want to maximize the impact of a quick jump scare or an extended attack sequence.
Sadly, the best parts of The Lost Footage… are just that, lost to a series of technical mistakes that render much of the action, the meat that you’ve patiently been waiting to devour, inscrutable and impossible to follow.
It’s frustrating and rightfully so because Grinstead clearly labored over how best to build genuine excitement, but there’s no excuse for not being a see a damn thing once Leah and Patrick finally discover the truth about the Mulcahys.