Dir. Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky, USA/Canada, 2018, 104 min.

Adams Stein and Zach Lipovsky’s suspenseful thriller inverts the campy horror trope of child-as-monster in movies such as Child’s Play by presenting viewers with a relatable 7-year-old named Chloe, played by the compelling Lexy Kolker. Chloe just wants to be normal, like any 7-year-old, even though her dad is kind of weird, and she instantly draws our empathy.

The father, played by Emile Hirsch, is at first presented as a helicopter parent taken to psychotic lengths. He barricades his daughter in the house and comes back from outside forays covered in blood. Eventually, the film reveals his paranoia to be justified, unspooling a dystopian scenario of government relocation and liquidation of so-called “abnormals,” whom it must be said, do possess extraordinary powers and go into trance-like states akin to demonic possession that can produce lethal results.

Freaks resists easy moralism, confronting viewers with the question of whether individuals are monstrous — or is it society?

The richly layered narrative, with a child struggling to find out who she is, a father and grandfather frantically attempting to improvise a safety net for the vulnerable child, cops and federal agents ready to use deadly force, and a mission to save the girl’s mother from a horrific lab underneath a mountain, hurtles this engrossing film towards a not entirely unexpected conclusion. Before the credits roll, viewers can already appreciate the animating questions of the sequel: Will the abnormals carve out an independent enclave or fight a war of liberation?

Freaks screens at Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem on Friday at p.m.

— JG

You may also enjoy these Riverrun 2019 reviews:

The Rusalka: This quiet thriller by North Carolina native Perry Blackshear, the director of the 2015 psychological thriller They Look Like People, depicts a modern retelling of the Rusalka, a Slavic folktale female creature who haunts the waterways in which she drowned.

The Sound of Silence: This feature-length film by an NC-native follows Lucian, a man who makes a living by “tuning” the homes of anxious, troubled New Yorkers.

Find the full list of reviews here.

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