Pedro Pascal in Freaky Tales holds up a note.

Sundance Film Review: Freaky Tales

Film Reviews

Sundance Film Review: Freaky Tales
Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Entertainment One, MACRO
Premiere: 01.18

When I first moved into my freshman dorm in Berkeley, I was greeted by a partially-faded “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” in red spray paint on the sidewalk by the front door. Freaky Tales takes that sentiment to new heights in a silly, nail-biting romp through the East Bay underground in 1987.

Freaky Tales is a gritty collage of diverse underground scenes. Recognizable landmarks such as DIY punk venue 924 Gilman Street and historic cinema Grand Lake Theatre pepper the screen, complete with an evil Berkeley cop, a magical AC Transit bus and a tasteful dose of “hella”s. It’s a surreal nostalgia trip for anyone who has lived in the Bay Area, and for those who haven’t, it’s still a genuine riot and a true-to-heart ode to a specific time and place.

Loosely connected by a message about underdogs, Freaky Tales follows four stories that gradually intersect and entangle, though the end product feels more like a mixtape than an anthology—in a good way. “The Gilman Strikes Back” follows young punk lovers Tina (Ji-young Yoo, Smoking Tigers) and Lucid (Jack Champion, Scream VI, Avatar: The Way of Water) as they gear up to fight back against a Nazi skinhead gang. Next is “Don’t Fight the Feeling,” in which best friends Barbie (Dominique Thorne, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Judas and the Black Messiah) and Entice (Normani, in her film debut) make a name for themselves in a rap battle against Too $hort himself. Pedro Pascal (The Last of Us, The Mandalorian) plays a troubled hitman with a pregnant wife hoping to get back on the straight-and-narrow in “Born to Mack,” the most clichéd of the vignettes (think Barry Berkman of HBO’s Barry) that is fortunately saved by Pascal’s magnetic performance.

Lastly, “The Legend of Sleepy Floyd” reimagines the night of May 11, 1987, when Golden State Warrior Sleepy Floyd (Jay Ellis, Insecure, Top Gun: Maverick) played a record-setting game against the Los Angeles Lakers, as a bloody revenge massacre culminating in a face-off with The Guy (Ben Mendelsohn, The Dark Night Rises, Rogue One). Other surprising cameos include Bay Area native Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Cast Away) as an intense cinephile, the late Angus Cloud (Euphoria) in one of his final roles and a mysterious green substance enveloping the city in supernatural energy. I almost expected to hear a Ghostbusters needle drop.

Writer-directors Boden and Fleck are Sundance veterans whose body of work includes many independent films, as well as 2019’s Captain Marvel. In this year’s return to the festival, the duo explores a new aesthetic style in the vein of Boots Riley, another Oakland-native filmmaker with surrealist tendencies, though Sorry to Bother You is an explicitly socialist narrative whereas Freaky Tales is a still effective as a melodramatic, anti-establishment pastiche. It begins in the punchy, comic-book style of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and ends in a grotesquely hilarious, Kill Bill-esque rampage. In other words, and I don’t use this word lightly, it’s camp. Hella freaky. –Asha Pruitt

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.