Some Freaks is an astonishing debut that cuts deep, shattering open the high school drama of the misfits falling in love narrative to reveal a longing for human connection.
This review is part of an ongoing series covering films appearing in the 2017 Calgary Underground Film Festival, published simultaneously with www.danielmelvilljones.com.
There are countless films about high school outcasts who fall in love while maintaining their eccentric personalities. So when I saw that Some Freaks was pitched as the story of an awkward kid with an eye patch falling in love with an obese girl, I expected another variation of a familiar story. Instead, this debut film from director Ian MacAllister McDonald captivated me with its compelling storytelling before slaying me with the deep human ache it so bravely unravels. This is a movie about loneliness, the longing to be known, and the deep uncertainty at the core of such attempts. Some Freaks is not about surviving high school; it’s about surviving life.
Matt is an earnest young man hiding behind the shame of an eye patch. At first we’re not sure why he wears it, or even if he even needs to. But we do know that this peculiarity marks him as a target by his classmates, and that he is treated as an outcast by their whispered teasing and attempts to bully. The only other student who treats him as normal is Elmo, who drags Matt to Elmo’s upscale home, while incessantly chattering about video game technology and his desire to make out with a gangly boy on the basketball team. We get the feeling that Matt is glad for Elmo’s hospitality but that the friendship doesn’t have the spark of connection that Matt is searching for. When Matt meets Elmo’s cousin, the vivacious, overweight, and similarly teased Jill, he finds that companionship he was searching for. The film follows the progression and eventual fate of that relationship, before expanding its narrative to include all three characters’ quest for acceptance.
Some Freaks engages us immediately through its unusually long and narrow aspect ratio, and an intimate camera style that frequently follows characters by hovering right behind their heads, plunging us into their store. The acting is remarkable – nuanced and completely believable. The story shakes up the common conventions by regularly jumping across time. At first, these jumps are multiple weeks but the final jump extended to six months. These leaps allow the film to go beyond just a high school romance, exploring the effects of this desire as the characters leave the classroom and enter the larger world. It’s in this final, surprising third act, when the narrative follows each character individually, that the movie transforms from a relationship drama to a mediation on our desperate need for connection.
Sex permeates Some Freaks. It’s the subject of the jokes in the school hallways, the longing of Nemo, the goal of Matt, and a badge of honor for their handsome peers. In the hands of some it is a powerful weapon, for others a token prize to be offered upon completion. But in this movie sex is never about the service level of physical pleasure. Instead it becomes a longing for intimacy and connection, a bond of understanding and love between your lonely self and another human being. It’s a sign to yourself and the world that you’ve made it; that you and all your strangeness are, in fact, of value to someone else. All three of the characters live outside the norms of society: Elmo with his sexuality, Jill in her body weight, and Matt with his strange eye. In the climax, each of these characters tries to prove, or shed, or celebrate this strangeness with the world. Each fails miserably.
“It finally feels like I’m not alone in this world,” Matt confesses during the joyful high of the romance, a feeling so fleeting to him and his friends. To be regulated as alone and an outsider is the deep fear and default position of everyone in this film. Some Freaks conveys this heartache sensitively, yet with cutting precision. Immediately after watching, I was overcome with loneliness. On instinct and without thinking about it, I picked up my phone and Face-Timed a best friend, acting with a sort of desperation. Such is the power of Some Freaks, a truly impressive debut feature that will linger, like its closing shot, long after viewing.