Off-Season Reviews: Freakshow (2007)
I actually bought this week’s film on accident. Sometimes when you’re raiding “going out of business” sales, you have to act quickly, and just hope everything turns out in your favor. Such as when Freakshow came into my possession. I picked it up hoping it was (the awesome) Freaked. Instead I found a retread of Tod Browning’s famous Freaks.
Where once we had the famous Johnny Eck, moving up from Barnum’s hallowed rings to the silver screen, here we get “Mighty Mike.” And one armless man who evokes Prince Randian by smoking cigarettes with his feet. Needless to say, considering Randian had no limbs at all, yet still could roll and smoke his own cigarettes, it’s not really a fair fight.
Because this is thoroughly modern film, complete with modern primitive performers and tons of tribal tattoos, there’s an obligatory dark streak running through Keith Leopard’s tale. Rather than having a murderous, gold-digger looking to shake up the society of oddities, here we have the circus’ hired staff looking to pull a heist.
There’s another temptress, Lucy (Rebekah Kochan), who’s looking to find out where the ringleader, Lon (Christopher Adamson), hides his fortune. There’s also a corrupt cop who’s in on the job, and willing to go in on the take. Putting this film firmly in the Napoleon Dynamite tradition, of having absolutely no characters with which you can identify with.
The circus owner , who is going to be robbed, is a vicious bastard who has no problem assaulting the hired help. So he’s out. Everyone else is either a small-time thief or a corrupt cop. Perhaps we’re supposed to side with Lon’s wife, Sherri (Sharon Edrei), and family, but Sherri is much too silent and far too easily victimized.
(Also, for reasons no one will ever be able to decipher, she’s also his step-sister! Which added a healthy dose of disgust to our reactions as we thought they were siblings, but then the filmmakers dilute it. Really? Pretend siblings?)
Not that any of it matters, since the film ends with the thieves becoming murderous. Which then naturally forces the oddities to become vindictive; killing off all the hired help. An interesting change here is using of a freak funeral as the turning point, instead of Freaks’ wedding. A nice touch, sure, as it also underlines the running thematic harshness that dominates the film.
Freakshow tries so hard to be tough. From the stereotypical ne’er-do-wells who make up the thieving gang to Lon, who appears predictably with messed-up teeth and giant boils on his back. An appearance, I should add, that makes the thieves’ claim that he’s rich and has a castle in Europe hard to swallow. Lon’s rich enough to have a castle as a summer home, but can’t afford to go to a dentist or find a dermatologist?
The mounting bloodshed, combined with Lon’s recommitment to his freaks’ cause, takes us into the third, and final, act; where the film trades in all its (failed) intrigue and (dull) drama to become pure torture porn. Low budget torture porn, but torture porn nonetheless.
Lucy is beaten, tied down on a table, and brutalized for a good 15-20 minutes. A comeuppance that’s acceptable, I guess, in the same way people fantasize about vigilante justice. She’s given a mastectomy performed via teeth and knife, has her tongue cut out with scissors that are clearly in need of sharpening, and finally has her lips inexplicably tied together in slow-motion. (If she’s without a tongue, why sew her mouth shut?)
As an unabashed fan of the “torture porn” genre, you’d think I’d enjoy this turn. A glorious, finally, something interesting happened! moment in an otherwise tedious movie. Sadly, no such luck. The footage, all shot in close-up, along with the slow-motion, just looks tacked on. A last gasp attempt to “shock” some life out of a crowd that most likely gave up 40 minutes earlier.