Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Freaks of Nature (2015) - Review - @BrandonCSites

Freaks of Nature (2015) **
D: Robbie Pickering
C: Nicholas Braun, Mackenzie Davis, Josh Fadem, Denis Leary, Joan Cusack, Ed Westwick, Vanessa Hudgens, Chris Zylka, Bob Odenkirk, Ian Roberts, Rachael Harris, Mae Whitman, Patton Oswalt, Pat Healy

Plot Synopsis: A teenager (Nicholas Braun), a vampire (Mackenzie Davis) and a zombie (Josh Fadem) join forces to battle an alien invasion in their once-peaceful town.

Review: Freaks of Nature has one of the best horror movie premises in recent memory - a small town in which zombies, vampires & humans co-exist uneasily with one another. When a UFO begins to loom over their small town, that uneasy alliance begins to unravel as everyone tries to point the finger at each other as to who's responsible for the appearance of this UFO. With three sets of characters (vampires, humans & zombies), this is the kind of premise that's ripe for biting social commentary on the differences among the three.

In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the 1988 cult classic Heathers
There's obvious parallels between the two. In both Heathers and Freaks of Nature, the arrival of an outsider causes the delicate structure of society to fall apart. From this, both films explore the differences among the various subsets that make up this society and how they behave towards one another. However, instead of being fearless in its exploration of its characters and of society like Heathers was, Freaks of Nature only touches upon the surface. For example, we never get a true understanding as to why each group of characters is resentful towards the other, other then that they're different. 

When the UFO lands, each group gathers (separately) to accuse the other of being responsible for this UFO. After each group makes a few declarative statements about the other, in a heightened tone of voice, they charge after each other in an all out brawl to the death. So much for nuance!  

Even though Heathers was made 27 years ago, it's often been said that it could never been made today and that's never rung true more so with a film like Freaks of Nature around. For example, when one teenager lets a vamp bite her on the neck, it's treated in a romantic / sexual kind of way. The people behind this lack the courage to examine the stupidness of a character allowing a vampire to bite her on the neck. They lack the courage to examine the societal issues, at hand, of a character allowing a vampire to bite her, thinking it'll be her 'in' to gaining a vampire's love and entry into his social circle.

There's a plot device involving factory workers who are replaced with zombies, because zombies are mindless and won't challenge authority. Plus, they'll never ask for things such as fair pay, benefits or health coverage. This ploy could've have been ripe for exploring what's happening in today's workplace and for examining the culture surrounding places like Wal-Mart, who use similar tactics. Issues like this get brought up. They're briefly mentioned and then they're disposed of. None of them get explored in any meaningful way, that makes you ponder over what's happening or that requires any kind of thought or perceptive muscle.

However, the script isn't the only guilty party. Both the direction and the performances are far too lightweight and skirt the larger issues. They both have energy & momentum and would probably be agreeable in a romantic comedy or any other type movie that doesn't require much thought. This is the kind of premise that begs for a darkly satirical approach, to skewer all of the flaws of all these characters and groups and of the structure that this town has implemented. Someone needed to bring a harder edge to the material.

The only person involved with this production, who has any sort of bite, is actor Ed Westwick of Gossip Girl fame. He looks like he would be right at home in a dark comedy. Too bad his character is given such a limited amount of screen time. It's as though he was cast, not so much for his ability, but because he once starred in Gossip Girl. So, they figured they could trade in his name value for marketing purposes. Westwick ends up being another wasted opportunity, much like the premise.

All of this reminds me of a popular theory. It's been debated that when people are on the verge of greatness, that they have a habit of self-sabotaging themselves. That theory has never seemed more plausible with Freaks of Nature. [R] 92 minutes.

AKA: The Kitchen Sink

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