Premiered as part of the EIFF ‘Not another teen movie’ thread, We Are The Freaks is director Justin Edgar’s attempt to make a teen movie for England. Growing up a fan of the genre due to films like The Breakfast Club (John Hughes 1985), he felt that whilst there were plenty of good American offerings, there weren’t any that spoke directly to British youths.
The plot’s set in 1990, against the backdrop of Margaret Thatcher resigning as Prime Minister. Jack (Jamie Blackley) is working a mundane job, waiting to find out if his grant application to go to University and study creative writing is approved. During his spare time he hangs out with his misfit friends; Parsons (Mike Bailey) who’s being forced by his parents to constantly re-sit his exams until he passes in spite of him having no interest in doing so, and Chunks (Sean Teale) who lives off his rich divorced parents’ fortune. Not needing to work, Chunks fills his days with outlandish behaviour and ingesting many illicit substances. We Are The Freaks follows the three of them over the course of a wild night out.
After scoring some drugs from insane Irish dealer Killer Colin (Michael Smiley, who you’ll probably recognise from his many supporting roles in T.V. shows and British films, including 2011’s Kill List directed by Ben Wheatley), things spiral out of control when Jack and Chunks crash a posh party being attended by Parsons and his Young Conservative girlfriend Claire (Rosamund Hanson). Chunks gets lumbered taking care of Rodger, the possibly autistic brother of the girl he fancies; Jack gets a date with the girl he’s got a crush on only to find out her upper middle class credentials are a façade and Parsons suffers an embarrassing penile injury then has a show down with his parents (‘aided’ by Killer Colin).
In his introductory monologue to the camera, Jack explains how amongst other things he hates raves, Goths, riots, politicians and films where characters speak to camera. Basically he doesn’t belong to any sub culture or ideal, the same as his friends.
Whilst Jack is from an underprivileged background, Blackley who plays him comes across as so middle class that he fails to make the character convincing. We Are The Freaks continues British cinema’s tired obsession with class. Jack’s crush, Iona (Hera Hilmar), is upper middle class; Parsons’ parents obsession with him passing his exams reflects the aspirations of the lower middle class; Chunks is disaffected upper class etc. etc. ad nauseum et tedium.
Mike Bailey and Sean Teale both starred in Channel 4 TV teen drama series ‘Skins’ – Bailey in 2007-2008 and Teale in 2011-2012. Whilst they are experienced actors, they don’t yet have the necessary magnetism for the big screen. Blackley has had some supporting roles in cinema releases, including Snow White And The Huntsman (Rupert Sanders 2012). He does have confidence in front of the camera and it is a pretty safe bet to say he’ll be appearing in many more roles on both the silver and small screen. Smiley is amusing as Killer Colin and clearly enjoyed playing the character.
When it comes to cinematography, wide lenses are frequently used, often framing characters on the edge of the scene to reflect their misfit status. But there’s nothing especially new or exiting about that, or with the use of fantasy sequences to illustrate a character’s thoughts and feelings.
This brings us to the main problem – the film feels worn out. Watching it is like making a checklist of films you’ve already seen: Trainspotting (Danny Boyle 1996); American Pie (Paul Weitz 1999) and This Is England (Shane Meadows 2006) to name a few. Even the aforementioned ‘Skins’ was doing similar on TV starting with its first series back in 2007. None of the characters are weird in a sufficiently novel way to make them remotely memorable.
Director Justin Edgar wanted to make a film that captured the energy of being young and speaks to today’s teenagers by examining the end of Thatcher’s reign and the period of his own youth. Quite how he thought he was doing this and the nature of any unique message he wants to convey are mysteries. Sadly, We Are The Freaks is ultimately just another teen movie.
Director: Justin Edgar
Cast: Jamie Blackley, Mile Bailey, Sean Teale, Michael Smiley, Hera Hilmar, Rosamund Hanson, Adam Gillon
Runtime: 80 mins