In the strange town of Dillford, vampires, zombies and human beings live together peacefully if uneasily. Their offspring also share the same high school. While nice guy Dag (Nicholas Braun) struggles to get out of the friend zone with girl crush Lorelei (Vanessa Hudgens), lovelorn Petra (Mackenzie Davis) is branded a blood-sucking slut after a one-night stand with heartless vampire poser Milan (Ed Westwick) who cruelly casts her aside. Meanwhile, Dag's estranged friend Ned (Josh Fadem) is so disheartened with his boorish family he starts hanging out with zombies and willingly becomes one of the shambling, brain-eating undead. The sudden arrival of a vast alien spaceship in the skies above Dillford shatters the peace and kicks off a bloody free-for-all between vampires, zombies and humans. As chaos erupts, Dag, Petra and Ned find themselves trapped together in a hiding place. In order to survive the alien attack and save their town they must first settle their differences.
Freaks of Nature serves up a rather ingenious combo platter catering to the current nostalgia for both Eighties horror films and John Hughes teen comedies. The conceit of a world where humans co-exist with various supernatural creatures has been done many times before, either as drama or comedy or, in the case of the Underworld series, unintentional comedy. Here screenwriter Oren Uziel co-opts classic monsters as allegorical stand-ins for certain social cliques in high school: vampires as jocks and cool kids, zombies as stoners, etc. Uziel and director Robbie Pickering satirize the social Darwinism inherent in the pressure cooker high school environment that enables narcissists and sociopaths to thrive and victimize the weak. Though the film's satirical observations are far from subtle and the character-based humour raises too few laughs throughout a plodding first third, things pick up throughout a lively second half. Freaks of Nature creates a world and explores ideas that are winningly quirky and interesting. Even affecting at times.
Of particular interest are the subplots concerning Petra, who like so many lovestruck teenage girls in high school, pays a heavy price for giving her heart to a self-serving, manipulative guy, and Ned who finds a friendship and acceptance among zombies he never had with the living. Unusually the second act proves the strongest section of the movie. Trapped in a basement, survivors Dag, Petra and Ned expose each others character flaws, confront bad life choices and share personal feelings in a disarming cross between The Breakfast Club (1985) and The Monster Squad (1987). Interestingly Freaks of Nature was originally set to mark the directorial debut of actor Jonah Hill. Pickering does a solid job throughout, working with cinematographer Uta Brieswitz to parody iconic horror movie set-pieces and create that unique diffuse Eighties movie glow that was once-despised by film snobs but now instills the warmest nostalgia.
There is plentiful gore and the alien attacks are surprisingly well handled, even scary, displaying a fine combination of computer graphics with practical effects. Yet, underlining this as a character-driven movie foremost, it is the central performances that really grab you. Continuing to build on the promise of his early Disney roles, Nicholas Braun is a charismatic comic lead, Mackenzie Davis essays an especially winsome and vulnerable vampire proving yet again why she is such a fast-rising star and Josh Fadem etches a memorable zombie hero with some poignant tragicomic moments. Scattered throughout are an array of great comic talents, including several noted genre fans: Keegan-Michael Key plays a fiery vampire high school teacher that gets his jollies deliberately bestowing bad grades to a gifted student, Denis Leary is the self-aggrandizing local bigwig who employs zombies as cheap labour and manufactures dubious luncheon meat and Bob Odenkirk and Joan Cusack play Dag's hopelessly embarrassing but lovable stoner parents. Despite its scattershot structure and humour, Freaks of Nature packs a lot of charm such as the conceit of the hero having to take off all his clothes to save the heroine's life or the hilarious subtitled reconciliation between zombie father and son. It is quirky and imaginative at a time when many genre films play it very safe. Frankly, any film where a giant CGI alien voiced by Werner Herzog quotes a Billy Joel song automatically gets my vote.