One of the toughest challenges for any filmmaking duo to execute effectively is the combination of horror and comedy. Over the years, this combination has created some incredible genre films from around the world which have made viewers jump, shriek, laugh and remember. The latest entry into this subgenre of horror comes from Israel entitled FREAK OUT or MESUVAG HARIG.
In a very simple story, we see a film that struggles to find its drive but instead lingers and hopes for a large payoff in the final act. FREAK OUT revolves around a quartet of soldiers who meet on a bus heading for duty. This duty will last a week and is stationed out on a military base isolated from everything else. In the typical outcast dynamic, a majority of the soldiers pick on, torment and isolate one particular soldier named Matan (Itay Zvolon). Matan has fears and issues with every aspect of his service time and being on the base including the connection with his mother who he can’t seem to let go.
As the week goes on, the remainder of his squad continue to torment him, justifying it by excuses of toughening him up. As he copes with this multi-level isolation and growing fear from the stories of the base, his base commander Stas (Kye Korabelnikov) and the troop leave him alone one night on the base to fend for himself. Matan’s dread grows as he believes that someone has gotten onto the base and is after him. He finds out that it was a practical joke played on him by the troop. As he stands up for himself, he gains respect for his bravery but the group starts to uncover secrets about the base and a bunker. As these secrets develop, a killer is discovered in their midst. As the secrets come full circle, we see the madness surrounding the base, its occupants and the reality that survival is more than a training exercise. Who is who they say they are? Who is lying? Who’s the figure lurking around the base?
FREAK OUT was a tough watch to say the least. Sitting down, I expected more from an Israel genre film especially horror filmmaking that has yielded titles released in the states like RABIES, BIG BAD WOLVES and JERUZALEM. FREAK OUT is not even on the same continent as these films. Mind you, it is a horror comedy hybrid which of course would not be action packed or dramatic but overall I was disappointed in the pace, predictability and extremely typical build-up with characters that are as cookie cutter as you get. You wonder where this will go and realize that even though the film picks up in the final act, it is very predictable on who did what, why they did it and what will happen as a result.
However, for the look, mood and visual senses of the film, it was actually pretty adequate. The director Boaz Armoni and cinematographer Moshe Mishali were through in the preparation and understanding of capturing atmosphere at the base. The use of light, the color palate, the movement as well as framing of the camera particularly in wide sweeping shots of the outskirts of the base and in contrast down the narrow corridors of the bunker grabbed my attention when I was ready to give up on this film. Unfortunately, the opening grabber did nothing for me story-wise but was a very simple set up that led to a more creative set piece within the bunker with the blood, props and gore. This added a much needed infusion of horror and life into the final act which had its very tame twists and slasher influence. Overall, FREAK OUT is not one of the films I would watch again but that does not take away from the effort put forth from a country slowly producing genre films which is always welcomed. Perhaps for me it is lost in translation or not my cup of whiskey but for those reading this review, give it a chance, especially for newer and timid fans who want a bridge film to open the door to horror.