Directed by Gabriele Mainetti.
Starring Aurora Giovinazzo, Claudio Santamaria, Pietro Castellitto, Franz Rogowski.
Fantasy, Italy, 141 minutes.

Reviewed as part of FrightFest Glasgow 2022.


Gabrielle Mainetti’s FREAKS OUT occupied the prime Saturday evening slot of the first physical Glasgow FrightFest in two years. One of the most expensive Italian movies ever made, Mainetti takes super powered movie tropes and grafts them onto a war movie that refuses to shy away from the cruelty and desperation of a country under fascist occupation. Telling the tale of a small circus troupe with extraordinary gifts, the film begins with a whimsical display wherein each member displays their unique gifts to the delight of their audience before the war outside the tent literally explodes through their tent, and audience, in graphic fashion.


The troupe led, and kept in check, by the elderly and kindly Israel consist of Matilda whose talent for conducting electricity holds her back from physical contact with anyone, Cencio, an albino who can communicate with insects, the diminutive Mario who has a talent for magnetism and Fulvio a strongman whose startling canine appearance matches his fierce temper. Having to abandon their act due to the invading Nazi forces, they soon find themselves running into Franz, an officer who performs in the “Zirkus Berlin.” Franz’s powers of prophecy allow him to perform piano symphonies with his six fingered hands which will be fresh in the minds of 21st century audiences. Desperate to impress and save Hitler from his bunker bound fate Franz uses the circus to track down “my own fantastic four” to turn the tide of the war.

There are flashes of Terry Gilliam in the films design and surreal juxtapositions of fantasy into the real world and jarring jolts of bloody, sadistic violence that bring Del Toro’s PANS LABYRINTH into mind. FREAKS OUT however succeeds more often than not by being its own strange beast. Mainetti, whose previous feature THEY CALL ME JEEG went down a storm at FrightFest ’16, makes full use of his big budget and creates a film, that while flawed in some respects, often exhilarates and shocks, gifting the audience with one of the most original takes on super powered cinema in some time. Some audience members may find themselves surprised by the harsh and sometimes downright unappealing characters we usually find ourselves rooting for. When motives are based purely on selfish reasons more than desperate measures it could be argued that Mainetti is criticising or examining his own country’s World War 2 history. By the end though he should have won such members over with the winding and satisfying path his characters take to using their powers for good.


This more morally complex take that is usually ignored outright by American superhero films makes FREAKS OUT a complete jolt to the system to those who find themselves jaded and bored by the near constant glut of superhero movies filling up multiplex screens. By the time it reaches its epic, action-packed train set conclusion it will no doubt have the full attention of its viewers, who if they are lucky will be seeing it on as big a cinema screen as possible. At the least it should put Mainetti on the map of genre directors who should be sought out more by audiences and studios. FREAKS OUT, like its super powered characters surprises and exhilarates in a number of ways that are unexpected and constantly astonishing.


Iain MacLeod.


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