This unsubstantial yet enjoyable comedy plays with zombie and vampire genre tropes while telling an alien invasion story at the same time. Tone, core cast, and social environment are all taken from the high-school-comedy realm. And while there is some gore, this feels much more like a comedy than a horror-comedy.
I’ll spare you a plot summary, as the plot is not important. The main story-line is a run-of-the-mill alien invasion story resting on your average “we-have-to-work-together-not-against-each-other” theme. But the filmmakers know this and so they tell the story in a self-aware fashion. Even the alien contact is subverted by shifting between different scenarios.
The film begins with a cold open, and then rewinds (literally) to tell you what has happened up to that point. In general, I am not a big fan of this kind of opening, but it works here, because the “normal” life the rewinding takes us to is actual not so normal – and that very fact is then not mentioned, highlighted, or explained, but is instead completely passed over and presented as a given, which increases the humour. This opening is definitely superior to the alternative version I spotted amongst the DVD extras.
Freaks of Nature does not really try to give us much in the way of fully fleshed-out characters, and there are a number of plot conveniences in this film, but such things do not matter much in this type of film. And as far as genre trope satires go, this is one of the better ones. The humour here is mostly well-written and well-delivered. This film is not exactly a piece of high brow art, but it is no junk either.
There are a lot of references to various Hollywood films, but they are mostly low-key. H. R. Giger is mentioned, and a reference is made to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for example. There are also very faint echoes of Twilight, but the film never does reference the franchise directly. This low-key approach is to its benefit as the film would feel disjointed if they openly referenced specific vampire films all the time when talking about vampires, specific zombie films when talking about zombies, and specific alien films when talking about aliens, etc.
A good cast with very solid performances is another element that works in the film’s favour. Nicholas Braun plays the lead character Dag, who tries to save the day with the help of two former friends who he had lost touch with over the years: Petra, now a newbie vampire (Mackenzie Davis), and Ned, now a newbie zombie (Josh Fadem). Mackenzie Davis gives the most enjoyable performance in this film. Braun also delivers a good performance, but his character is oddly written at times, shifting between model hero and model anti-hero. Josh Fadem got the short straw, as the way zombies are written in this film leaves him no room to show any actual range. His acting in his few pre-zombie scenes, however, is good.
There are a number of enjoyable supporting performances, including Vanessa Hudgens as a femme fatale, Denis Leary playing an immensely unpleasant factory owner, and Patton Oswalt in a pretty short appearance as a model geek.
There is also a good performance by Keegan-Michael Key as a teacher from hell. We all know teachers who are burned out after doing this very demanding job for 30 years or more. What the makers of this film are asking you to imagine is how psychotic a man would be if thanks to his immortality he has already spent 97 years in the teaching profession….
Completing of the high-profile supporting cast is Werner Herzog, who voices the alien head honcho.
Freaks of Nature is not a film that is particularly memorable, and certainly not a film anyone will pick for their must-see lists 15 or 20 years from now. But it is an enjoyable, diverting little comedy that does not suck – which is quite an achievement for a genre satire. If you are planning a lazy evening at home and need something short and unchallenging to pop into your DVD-player, this comedy might just be the right thing. Rating: 6 out of 10.