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September 12, 2016

Freaks of Nature

by Franz Patrick


Freaks of Nature (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

Sci-fi horror-comedy “Freaks of Nature,” based on the screenplay by Oren Uziel and directed by Robbie Pickering, offers a general approach of satirizing movies with zombies, vampires, or aliens where such creatures wreck havoc in a small town and the day must be saved by hormonal high school students, preferably outcasts within their own cliques. Although the premise is amusing for the most part—and it offers a few fresh ideas—the satire is never sharp enough to be specific or powerful enough to serve as a strong statement piece about the marginalized. These creatures are metaphors after all.

What it gets exactly right, however, is the special effects and makeup. The opening scene grabs the audiences by employing slow motion and freeze frames to showcase how a mob of blood-thirsty vampires, brain-hungry zombies, and desperate humans look. A lot of effort is put into giving us a range of looks, from the menacing to the ridiculous. The chaos and violence are immediately convincing and so we look forward to learning how the relatively peaceful Dillford, home of the riblets, have been reduced to pandemonium.

The script takes its time to establish the three protagonists: Dag (Nicholas Braun), a baseball player who is head over heels in love with a classmate (Vanessa Hudgens) who is not interested in him romantically, Petra (Mackenzie Davis), who looks forward to losing her virginity with a boyfriend (Ed Westwick) who happens to be a vampire, and Ned (Josh Fadem), an intellectual who clashes with his knucklehead family. The dialogue hits sitcom-like levels once in a while, but it helps that just about each scene is an attempt to move the plot forward. Many horror-comedies where teenagers are faced with supernatural or extraterrestrial situations tend to just sit there and let the visual effects do the work.

One gets the impression that at times the filmmakers try to cram too much during its ninety-minute running time. As a result, some scenes come across as rushed or underdeveloped, especially those that aim to highlight a teen’s relationship with his parents or how the protagonists learn to relate with one another. And because the relationships are often superficial, the jokes, especially ones that knock someone personally, are not as funny as they should be. Also, some of the jokes become quite repetitive. We get it: Dag has a history of not always being able to control his bodily functions.

“Freaks of Nature” is enjoyable and engaging for more than half of its running time because it actually offers a few neat ideas, but it is obviously limited by its form of media. Imagine this story told in a six-episode mini-series. Retain the exact tone and feel of this particular bonkers universe, but iron out the teenage angst of being an outsider and living in a small town where humans, vampires, and zombies have learned—more or less—to co-exist. If it had more time to grow and develop, it is likely that its charm would have been exponentially greater.

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