"Freaks vs The Reich" (2023)

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s Italian/Belgian coproduction Freaks vs. The Reich (AKA Freaks Out; 2021) an international award-winning fantastical historical action-adventure from director Gabriele Mainetti and VMI Worldwide.

During World War II in occupied Rome, a group of circus performers endowed with supernatural powers — electrically charged Matilde (Aurora Giovinazzo), insect tamer Cencio (Pietro Castellitto), hirsute Fulvio (Claudio Santamaria), and clown Mario (Giancarlo Martini) — band together to fight the oppressive Nazi regime’s occupation of Italy, with twelve-fingered pianist and want-to-be world dominator Franz (Franz Rogowski) behind the evil cause.

The Good
Joseph: I first became aware of Mainetti with his 2015 feature debut They Call Me Jeeg, AKA Jeeg Robot (you can read my Diabolique Magazine review at https://diaboliquemagazine.com/call-jeeg-toxic-relationships-italian-superheroes/), which, like this film, plays with superhero themes. Freaks vs. The Reich has a considerably larger budget behind it than They Call Me Jeeg, and the film looks absolutely gorgeous. From the detailed set designs and costumes to the terrific-looking practical and CGI special effects to the insane and insanely fun visions that Mainetti has crafted, there’s so much fantastic imagination on the screen that the film is a wonder to behold. You’ll witness images that are breathtaking and others that will have your jaw hit the floor. Cinematographer Michele D’Attanasio captures the proceedings masterfully, and Michele Braga and Gabriele Mainetti provide a wondrous score. The leads, which includes Giorgio Tirabassi as the circus ringleader of our lovable fearless foursome, all give memorable performances and they are aided by a strong supporting cast.

Right out of the chute we are introduced to the “fantastical foursome” that make up the titular Freaks, and their mentor, Israel (Tirabassi) as they perform in a small traveling circus outside of Rome. It’s not really an origin story, if you will, but in short order we learn their powers and enough of their personalities to make them likable and a group we want to root for. Of course, there’s the main villain Franz, who has the ability to see the future, and the scenes within his “lair” (which sounds cooler than saying “nice tent”) will be fun for viewers to see how many post-World War II things they can spot (and hear!). His motives are logical from his point of view. What he is doing makes sense, so there’s no relying on a cliché bad guy MacGuffin.  
While running a lengthy two hours and 20 minutes, things seem to move along rather briskly. Not only do we get a neat story that delivers the message that family doesn’t just mean those bound to you by genetics, there’s plenty of Nazis getting punched, shot, and blown up. Honestly, at the end of the day, any movie that can deliver those things is okay in my book.

The Bad
Joseph: I really don’t have any nits to pick with Freaks vs. The Reich. Its two-hours-plus running time intimidated me a bit before watching it, but once the film started, I was entranced. 

At two hours and twenty minutes Freaks vs. The Reich IS a little long, even though it didn’t feel like it to me. However, with a story that covers a lot of ground there are more than a couple of scenes that maybe could have been a little more tightly edited. In one particular case there is a montage of scenes that flips back and forth between the characters that includes some … intriguing nudity. While I certainly don’t mind nudity, the excessiveness of it seemed a bit gratuitous and could easily be edited out, trimming said run time and not affecting the story at all. However, with solid acting and some pretty cool special effects, that’s about all I can think of that I would consider “bad”.

The Verdict
Joseph: Calling all aficionados of superheroes, underdog stories, watching Nazis getting their rear ends kicked, beautiful looking films with a big heart and vivid imagination behind them, and just plain good motion pictures: Watch this movie!

Freaks vs. The Reich, while a bit long, is a fun and engaging ride.  The foursome are all likable and they come across as if they truly are dedicated to one another, even when circumstances force them to split up. The villain, while endowed with a pretty cool super power of his own, doesn’t really present himself as a serious threat, only managing to do much because of his brother who is a Nazi officer. 
Blending super-heroes (of a sort) with World War II, while quite popular in comics books of that time, isn’t very well-trodden cinematic ground so there’s plenty of things that make Freaks vs. The Reich original and definitely worth a watch. 

Freaks vs. The Reich, from VMI Worldwide, is available today, April 28 on VOD and digital.

Freaks vs. The Reich
Directed By: Gabriele Mainetti
Written By: Gabriele Mainetti, Nicola Guaglianone
Starring:  Claudio Santamaria, Aurora Giovinazzo, Pietro Castellitto, Giancarlo Martini
Run Time: 2h 21m
Rating:  NR
Release Date: April 28, 2023
Distributor: VMI Worldwide