Comedy Oddities: Freaks Of Nature

freaks of nature index
When you’ve got a cast that includes Nicholas Braun, Bob Odenkirk, Mackenzie Davis, Keegan-Michael Key, Patton Oswalt, Mae Whitman, and Joan Cusack and the plot revolves around a world where vampires and zombies co-exist with humanity and it’s a comedy horror with a script from Oren Uziel, the man behind the surprisingly great 22 Jump Street, you’d think you’d have a recipe for glorious madness, right? And one of the funniest films to have ever hit our screens? But no, not in this case, unfortunately it’s something of a mixed bag, a film which works well in places and yet is a bit limp in others.

The story makes it sound better than it actually is – Dag (Nicholas Braun) is a geeky student who lusts after his neighbour Lorelei (Vanessa Hudgens) while the teachers and other kids who treat him like shit. His former best friend Ned (Josh Fadem) has a jock dad and a jock brother and is so depressed he gets a zombie girl (Mae Whitman) to bite him, and fellow student Petra (Mackenzie Davis) gets turned in to a vampire after a misguided night of no passion with Milan (Ed Westwick). Everyone’s all rather upset and miserable but then aliens arrive to shake things up and all of the species turn on each other.

It’s one of those films which opens with an exciting explosion filled scene before cutting back to 24 hours earlier, it’s a device I’ve never been fond of and it takes half an hour before the film starts being really fun. At least 39 minutes we make it to the start of the film, but shortly afterwards everything slows down a little as our heroes (and anti-heroes) wait around in a bunker for a while. Another scene sees them stuck in the empty high school and it feels like padding, as does a part when they’re back at Dag’s house. Sure, it adds emotional depth to the characters but there’s too much of it and it makes the film duller than it should have been and so much fun could have been had with the concept.

There’s some really great individual scenes including one where the vampiric teacher Mr Keller (Keegan-Michael Key) gets off on giving a great student an undeserved F, and Joan Cusack and Bob Odenkirk’s birds and the bees speech to Dag is beautifully funny. Mae Whitman makes for a fun zombie, there’s a great bit where we see three newspapers, one published by humans, one by vampires and one by zombies, while Ned’s Dad’s demise is hilarious especially when he screams “I’m a zombie all you can eat buffet” among other things.

Apart from the slow pace what also lets the film down is Dag’s whiny-ness. Nicholas Braun recently turned in a superb performance in HBO’s Succession but he’s a little too wimpy and wet here and so doesn’t make for an enchanting lead. Vanessa Hudgens is great as his mostly stoned lust object but is absent for long periods, and while Josh Fadem is strong and Mackenzie Davis makes for a likeable enough female lead, the better known comedians aren’t given enough to do. Patton Oswalt only gets about two minutes screen time and Bob Odenkirk and Joan Cusack get a couple of scenes and that’s it too. It’s inconsistent as well, after learning that the aliens can’t see them when naked they take off their clothes, but then put them back on for some unknown reason.

There’s so much potential here it’s a shame that it doesn’t quite gel, the action scenes are drenched with blood and gore in a delightfully fun way and some of the dialogue really shines. It is definitely worth seeking out if you like comedy horror films but it’s best watched with low expectations, and just try not to think about how good it could have been if it’s better known cast members had been given an awful lot more to do.

Alex Finch.

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