Full Moon Features: Freaks of Nature (2015) and Slice (2018)
by Craig J. Clark
Jun. 16, 2019
This month’s Full Moon Feature is a double since I’m covering a pair of films set in places where humans coexist with supernatural creatures. In Freaks of Nature, it’s Dillford, the “Home of the Riblet,” where humans, vampires, and zombies live side by side, with shock collars on the zombies to prevent them from chowing down on the human population and an uneasy truce keeping the humans and vampires from going at each other. Meanwhile, Slice’s Kingfisher is divided between humans and ghosts, but the town’s slogan — “A Great Place to Be Alive!” — is a real slap in the face to its 40,000 deceased residents. Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about either film if they didn’t also feature werewolves, but in both cases the hairy beasts feel like an afterthought, as if the screenwriters decided to throw in another monster at the last minute, which is pretty much when they show up in each film.
The protagonists of Freaks of Nature are high school students Dag (Nicholas Braun), whose hippie parents have long kept from him the fact that he’s a werewolf, newly turned vampire Petra (Mackenzie Davis), who gets labeled a slut for going “all the way” with one of the vamp bullies at their school, and put-upon nerd Ned (Josh Fadem), the smartest kid in school who deliberately gets himself bitten by a zombie after an uninspirational teacher shatters his dream of getting into a good college. Said teacher, who just so happens to be a vampire, also happens to be played by Keegan-Michael Key, one of a number of funny people director Robbie Pickering and screenwriter Oren Uziel don’t spend nearly enough time with.
Other grown-ups who get short shrift in Freaks of Nature are Denis Leary’s asshole riblet plant owner, Bob Odenkirk and Joan Cusack as Dag’s “understanding” parents (who give him The Talk about the changes his body is going through), and Patton Oswalt as a doomsday prepper who’s ready for the coming apocalypse — whatever kind of apocalypse it turns out to be. His decision to let Dag, Petra, and Ned into his shelter in the midst of an alien invasion predictably backfires, but at least he can take comfort in having aided the only creatures — undead or otherwise — standing between Dillford and oblivion.
There’s no alien invasion to foil in Slice, just a conspiracy by a coven of witches to open the gate to Hell located in the basement of Perfect Pizza Base, which is suffering from a shortage of delivery people thanks to the mysterious killer targeting them. Since fugitive werewolf Dax Lycander (Chance the Rapper) is spotted at the scene of each murder, Kingfisher’s mayor (Chris Parnell) is quick to attribute them to him in a series of press conferences. This isn’t too hard to swallow since Dax fled town after the Yummy Yummy Chinese Cuisine Massacre, which claimed six lives, but has returned for reasons known only to writer/director Austin Vesely. (He certainly doesn’t seem too concerned about clearing his name.) Meanwhile, the first victim’s girlfriend (Zazie Beetz) tries to get to the bottom of things since the lead detective on the case is prejudiced against werewolves and therefore eager to pin it all on Dax without any evidence.
“What kind of werewolf are you?” Dax is asked when he’s taken into custody, and the answer turns out to be the kind that needs the moon to be full to wolf out, and when he does the change in his appearance is decidedly underwhelming. (See above. That his transformation back to human form mere minutes later is accomplished with CGI only adds insult to injury.) As in Freaks of Nature, the brightest spots in Slice’s supporting cast are filled by skilled comedians like Parnell and Paul Scheer (as the owner of the cursed pizza place who’s more concerned about the losses in sales than his employees’ lives). To paper over the copious holes in his script, though, Vesely throws in tons of narration by an eager newspaper reporter (Rae Gray) whose efforts to make sense of it all are ultimately beside the point in a film with lines of dialogue like “Godspeed, you Chinese food werewolf.”