High school sucks - especially for Some Freaks’ title characters Matt, Jill, and Elmo. None of them are weird enough to fit into the “weird” cliques - just enough to be outcasts to everyone. Matt’s eyepatch gets him nicknames like “Eyeball” and “Cyclops”; Jill’s weight and punk-ass attitude bait bullies; and Elmo, closeted to everyone but his friends, hasn’t figured out how to interact with other dudes. “We’re awful,” their bullies chuckle to themselves, even as they continue to be demonstrate it.
Unlike most titles at Fantasia Fest, Some Freaks isn't a genre film, but it still absolutely belongs. Its loving sense of otherness both respects its social reject characters and highlights their flaws, without making light of either. This isn’t some paean to weirdos or a diatribe against bullies: writer-director Ian MacAllister McDonald uses too much nuance for it to become either of those. Borne on the back of naturalistic performances, Some Freaks is the cinematic equivalent of an indie folk song. But, like, a really good one.
The story mostly centres around the romance between Matt (Thomas Mann) and Jill (Lily-Mae Harrington). The last two people to be picked for pig dissection (the first of many subversions of cliche), the two get off to an awkward start before finding a connection in each other’s outsider status. Hanging out at the dump and ditching the school prom, quiet Matt and motor-mouthed Jill fall deeply in love, in the way that only dumb high schoolers can.
But as graduation passes, high school bullshit turns into real-world bullshit, and tensions rise between the three friends as they find themselves separated by geography and more. Jill moves away, while Matt takes on a shitty job to fund a trip to see her. Already, the relationship is lopsided, but things degrade further when he turns up with a brand new false eye and discovers she has lost a significant amount of weight. Without the attributes that made them outsiders, is their connection still there? Can they ever truly fit in? Worse still, by changing themselves to become more like everyone else, do they become just like everyone else?
The movie lays these questions on a little thick, and doesn't always make us feel the right kind of uncomfortable. The second half often resorts to melodrama, as relationships turn sour and the oddities that attracted these people to one another become vectors for attacking each other. Some story beats feel completely out of character, and many are on the nose, hammering the themes home uncharacteristically harshly for such a subtle movie.
Even when the script falters, it's saved by a small cast that nails the required flavours of social ineptitude, refusing to succumb to stereotype. Thomas Mann brings honest teenage belligerence to Matt, Ely Henry plays closeted Elmo with bluster and barely-concealed anxiety, and even Lachlan Buchanan layers “nice guy” jock Patrick with sadness and frustration. But Lily-Mae Harrington is the breakout star of Some Freaks. As Jill, she’s smart, funny, empathetic, and vibrant, vividly capturing a character who’s been through shit and continues to put herself through more. It’s a remarkable performance, a standout amongst a slew of believable turns.
It’s important that those performances feel realistic, because the script demands its characters be both loving and cruel - sometimes simultaneously. Much of the film’s cruelty comes from bullies, obviously, but a surprising amount is traded between the protagonists, whether gently ribbing each other or attacking emotional weak spots with laser precision. Sometimes it’s the weirdos who ostracise each other the worst, filled as they are with resentment for normals and the usual teenage sense of self-importance.
Though the film doesn’t fetishise the weirdness of its characters, its characters definitely do. Everyone in the film fucks themselves up and alienates those closest to them by trying to “improve” themselves - and by not accepting others doing the same. While the script clumsily states some of its ideas outright - “you’re just too normal,” says one character - its meditations on young romance, otherness, and coming of age mostly ring true. Characters might outright state their feelings, but there’s more going on around those clunky lines that adds depth and dimension to the drama.
Some Freaks ends with an unresolved bummer, but that approach works. For such an intimate, often self-contradictory story, a wilfully inconclusive final statement is the only way to go out. It’s a fitting end for a movie that never does quite what you expect.