Though shot with actual carnival performers, Freaks features no carnival performances. Instead, the film focuses on the self-contained world behind the scenes. We see performers celebrate a new baby, struggle through a bitter breakup, and find new romance. Director Todd Browning paints these characters as relatable, not idealized saints or sullen outcasts, just folks living their lives. We relate. Then Browning strikes.
Midway through, the film presents a title card signalling a tonal shift. What seemed welcoming becomes ominous. The performers band together to exact revenge in an underplayed sequence full of dread. I loved everything until the coda’s final reveal, which felt incongruous with the film’s verisimilitude.