FREAK OUT (2015)
Directed by Boaz Armoni
Hebrew language with English subtitles
Screening at SERET Film Festival in London on 23rd June 2016
Matan, an office-based Israeli Defence Force soldier, is joined by three other IDF combat soldiers as they’re deployed to patrol a remote base in Givat Kfir, the North of Israel, for a week. Protecting a radioactive transmitter blocking cell phone signals, the soldiers must be on high alert from any attacks from their Arab neighbours. As time progresses, the soldiers realise the base is not all what it seems.
Israeli horror FREAK OUT focuses on nerdy Matan, a soldier who’s never seen combat and who spends his daily life working in offices on computers as a military assistant. When he’s called up to compulsory patrol service, he’s disheartened to find he’s been put with a group of three wild combat soldiers Yishai, Roy and Uzi who clearly enjoy a laugh and see Matan as easy prey to poke fun at and exploit. Their constant pranks and humiliation upsets shy Matan who repeatedly txts and calls his mother for support but despite his best efforts to return home and be placed on a different shift there in the future, is forced to stay the week with the rowdy soldiers. Even superior Stas, who Matan thought was an ally, uses him as the four leave Matan alone at the base to enjoy a night out on the tiles. Up on the watchtower, a frightened Matan realises he’s not alone…
FREAK OUT has a superb way of establishing his characters and drawing empathy from its viewers for poor Matan. Bullied in a role he’s not qualified or mentally prepared to do, we can see that he’s going to struggle to endure seven days of torment. I can imagine it being akin to returning back to your high school days where if you don’t fit in or appear a little nerdy then you’re taken advantage of and made to look a fool. It’s quite upsetting to see this and the humilation is pretty difficult to watch so when the base begins to take on an ominous edge on top of this, we know it’s not going to end well. A bunker lit in red holds sinister secrets we’re not sure we want to uncover especially given the opening scene. Tension mounts as the fear intensifies. Who will survive?
Claustrophobic scenes heightened by an isolated setting, FREAK OUT is an effective horror thriller in terms of storytelling even if the film unravels a bit towards its bloody finale. It’s a bit obvious where the film is leading, especially when you hit the final third, but the high quality of performances from the small cast involved make it a thoroughly entertaining movie to sit through til the credits roll. As horrible as it sounds, Matan’s awful treatment is what pulls the viewer into the story and makes us invest in him as a character as well as the others, for good or bad. The horror angle could have been developed or polished a little better to improve the movie however the build up is so well paced and executed that it remains a gripping watch.
Despite its lack of surprises, FREAK OUT thrills with its threatening menace and leaves me itching to see what else director Boaz Armoni and writer Lior Lederman have up their sleeve.