Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Freaks of Nature – review

Director: Robbie Pickering

Release date: 2015

Contains spoilers

As a concept this sounded brilliant. Small town USA, a place where humans, vampires and zombies live side by side in relative harmony until an alien invasion takes place. When I saw the trailer I was excited. When I realised that it featured a professional cast, including several names, it looked even better.

Looks can be deceiving.

welcome to Dillford
We are in Dillford – Home of the Riblet – and as the film starts we see Dag (Nicholas Braun) and Lorelei (Vanessa Hudgens) fleeing from a pursing mob. They’re all his neighbours, Dag’s voice-over tells us, and we see they are also vampires. Cop cars crash and burn, Dag and Lorelei get into a house but when the lights come on it is filled with zombies. Vampires burst through the doors and windows, a cop car crashes through the house and then there is light. Dag, a zombie called Ned (Josh Fadem) and a vampire called Petra (Mackenzie Davis) are still standing but an alien spaceship seems to have opened fire on the town. It’s actually a cracking opening.

Milan seduces Petra
Cut back in time and Dag goes to Dillford high school. He has a crush on Lorelei but she just uses his house as a place to stash her drugs. The high school has human, vampire and zombie students. The zombies wearing collars that prevent them from attacking the humans and the vampires wear sunscreen to prevent them burning in the sun. Ned, human at this point, is the smartest kid in the school and wants to see the curmudgeonly vampire teacher Mr Keller (Keegan-Michael Key) – Keller has given him an F simply to screw his life up, after 97 years teaching he’s not a happy camper. Petra, also human at this point, has been asked to a vampire party by heartthrob vampire Milan (Ed Westwick).

Rick and Dag
Dag is a star pitcher but Riblet plant owner Rick (Denis Leary) has come to hand out uniforms to the school team and can’t help but needle Dag as he sacked Dag’s mother, Peg (Joan Cusack), for trying to unionise the factory. Dag pitches at main Jock, and Ned’s brother, Chaz Jr (Chris Zylka), and manages to knock him for six and put the guy in a two year neck brace. He does it to impress Lorelei but she is still just using him to hold her drugs.

bitten's regret
In Ned’s home, that night at dinner, all attention is on Chaz Jr and Ned’s issue with the F is ignored, though Chaz Sr (Ian Roberts) decides college is now out. In a desire to escape his family, his bullied life and his stress, Ned gets himself bitten by a zombie girl from school (in the zombie area their collars are removed and they are provided with tinned brains). Petra is with Milan and thinks he wants to sleep with her, but he wants to bite her and talks about spending eternity together. She consents but afterwards he doesn’t return her calls and she turns. By the time that the aliens come, all three main characters have got issues.

Now, in order to make this watchable it is necessary that we just run with the conceit of the film. Why the vampire kids are in school (are they actually kids or much older) and why the zombie kids are there at all is not explained. How this town came to have these creatures living side by side is not even touched on. But live with the conceit and it’s so far so good – the character building took some pace out of the film but not too much. The presence of the alien spaceship hovering above the town doesn’t unite the three factions, however, but leads to their deep-seated prejudices emerging, which leads to all out violence between the three groups and leads us to the opening of the film.

However things go downhill from there with the film. Aside from discovering that the aliens cannot see organic matter and therefore they can go undetected if they are naked, which was a bizarre concept, the film falls into exploring the three kids, their hang-ups with each other (the three share a history to one degree or another) and the pace just absolutely falls apart. It grinds grudgingly to a climax where an alien is voiced by Werner Herzog, yes you read that right.

I have seen this likened to the zombie comedy "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" but isn’t a patch on that film. The outbreak in Scouts Guide is explained, it does have a touch of character introspection but not enough to screw the pace and it concentrates on the aspects that are entertaining – the comedy and the survival. In this we have nothing really explained and way too much introspection.

Mackenzie Davis as Petra
The vampire lore sees lack of reflections, heightened physical attributes, staking kills (and leading them to pop like soggy balloons) no consistency in fangs (two side fangs, two double fangs or a maw full of teeth) and that’s about it. In a strange twist in lore, with regards the zombies, we discover that they are addicted to brains but loose intellectual capacity the more brains they eat.

I really wanted to like this and it had some moments… it also had quite a bit of fail. 4 out of 10 reflects the fact that the best bits are really quite fun but they can’t rescue the crash in pace. The imdb page is here.

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