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FREAKS: 3 STARS. “humanity on display makes up for the lack of eye candy.”

“Freaks,” a new sci-fi horror film starring seven-year-old Lexy Kolker and eighty-three-year-old Bruce Dern, is a multi-layered head-scratcher that wonders what it might be like to be a helicopter parent to one of the X-Men.

Seven-year-old Chloe (Kolker) is kept a prisoner in the rundown suburban home she shares with her father Henry Lewis (Emile Hirsch). But this is not “Room” or any other confinement drama. This is the story of a father whose daughter is gifted in a way that will make her a target if she is discovered. Henry has tried to shield her from all this. “I never wanted the world to turn her into a freak,” he says. “She’s just a girl.” Father and daughter are blessed (or cursed depending on your point of view) with the ability to read minds, make themselves invisible and generate protective, clear bubbles.

Chloe doesn’t know or understand the extent of her powers and as long as she is kept separate from the world, may never know. Her only connections to outside world are ghostly visions (or are they real?) of her late mother Mary (Amanda Crew) and the ice cream man, Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) who seems to know a lot about her.

She has been trained to lie about her identity but soon she begins to wonder what lies beyond the walls of their home. What follows is an extreme case of stranger danger.

“Freaks” takes its time. It allows the viewer to reach their own conclusions, and then, more often than not, shatters them. The only thing that is for sure is that Chloe longs for her mother, a feeling expertly demonstrated by Kolker in a performance that gives the movie the heart it needs to make us care for the characters and the situations. The low fi effects don’t distract in the way a larger budget might have afforded but the humanity on display makes up for the lack of eye candy.

Good sci fiction is rarely exactly about what we see on screen. In that sense “Freaks” isn’t about Chloe’s powers, it’s about being different from those around you, about persecution, about feeling unwanted. There are feelings that many can relate to and making them universal, accessible and by times even exciting, is the film’s greatest strength.

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