In a time when the superhero/fantasy genre stagnates in endless remakes, in copies of copies, Freaks Out appears to be so radically different (despite its flaws) that it hardly can be even called a superhero film, in a good way.
Gabriele Mainetti’s very anticipated follow-up to Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot, which already reelaborated several superhero tropes is a film that is probably best described as a dark fantasy. Set after 1943, during the german occupation of central-northern Italy, it follows a group of circus freaks with superpowers as they try to find their lost circus manager, who disappeared after a trip to Rome. Under several aspects, the storyline that follows (which does present at least one major plot hole) differs so greatly from that of any superhero movie that it feels closer to a much darker version of Pinocchio, with a similar set of friends and foes that deceive or help the protagonists, or sometimes to a western, given some of the atmospheres.
Nonetheless, Freaks Out is not a film targeted for kids. The gore, violence and nudity point explicitly at a more mature audience, despite the presence of fairy tale-like elements.
The opening scene, in which a circus performance is interrupted abruptly by a bombing (a very striking scene that employs a long take), is emblematic in this sense.
Perhaps the best feature of this film is the villain. Too often superhero villains have been underdeveloped and neglected by films, but in Freaks Out’s case there is a much rounder character that acts as a nemesis. The film slips through a detailed backstory without too much exposition, provides him an interesting “superpower” and clear motivations, and manages even to make the audience feel pity for the antagonist.
Franz Rogowski, who portrays the villain, only adds to a great cast, that also includes an unrecognisable Claudio Santamaria (well known in Italy, but also by international audiences for his role in Casino Royale as the airport terrorist), a truly oustanding performance by Max Mazzotta as the leader of the partisans, and many others.
As international distribution is always an issue with italian films, we can only hope that Freaks Out gets a decent release abroad. Gabriele Mainetti confirms his worth and manages to reinvent once more a genre that is often frowned upon nowadays quality wise.