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Everything That Excites Us About Ben Wheatley’s ‘Freakshift’

By  · Published on April 21st, 2017

First thing: it sounds awesome.

This weekend, Ben Wheatley will unleash his blood-spattered gunfight film Free Fire into movie theaters around the world. And while I may not be the movie’s biggest fan – I’ll discuss it in-depth on Monday’s episode of After the Credits, but suffice to say it’s five pounds of movie in a ten pound bag – I find myself aggressively rooting for it to succeed based entirely on the premise of Wheatley’s next movie. You see, Wheatley is about to make a movie about soldiers fighting mutant crabs in sewers, and that’s a movie the world desperately needs to see. #MakeAmericaFightGiantCrabsAgain, if you prefer. I know the kids are all about a catchy hashtag.

And in celebration of Free Fire’s release, I thought today might be a good time to run down everything we’ve heard about Wheatley’s upcoming movie. Let’s start with his more recent comments. Wheatley recently raised a lot of eyebrows – and maybe a few… other body parts – when he described Freak Shift as a combination of Hill Street Blues and Doom to Collider. It’s an unlikely pairing of properties, but now that we’ve heard about it, we think it might stick.

It’s monsters, shotguns, trucks, fighting at night, and it’s in the future, things coming out like crabs. Stuff with claws. That’s the elevator pitch. And August is when we shoot it. It will be dynamic and exciting the same way that Free Fire is. But it won’t be sadistic. But it will be fun. It’s a kind of a 50s B-Movie done through the prism of Hill Street Blues and Doom.

Of course, Freakshift isn’t exactly a new project for the director (that Hill Street Blues comparison in particular is nothing new). As far back as 2012 – when Wheatley was making a name for himself on the festival circuit with his Wicker Man-esque Kill List – Wheatley was describing his desire to make Freakshift one of his next films. In an interview with IndieWire that January, Wheatley shared that he had been working with a few artists from the popular comic book series 2000 A.D. to do storyboards for the movie and was even getting involved in the costume designs as well, noting that he had been spending a bunch of time in “army surplus store buying up all of the chemical warfare suits.” The director even provided a more straightforward synopsis for the movie in the IndieWire interview, suggesting that audiences should be ready for some very strange creatures:

It’s about a crew that’s built up this armored vehicle and they go out and have to respond to 911 calls about these big monsters that have come out of the ground. They come out of the ground every night but there are different creatures – there are these massive half-monkey mutant things and loads of weird spiders and shit.

With ambitious creature work and story designs – Wheately has been sharing the storyboards for Freakshift via an anyonymous Twitter feed for a while now – Wheatley has also suggested that this would be his most expensive film to date. “It needs a budget of about $15m, so it’s quite big,” Wheatley told Empire Magazine in 2012, a statement that still stands when compared to the gradually increasing budgets of High-Rise ($8 million) and Free Fire ($10 million).

And then there’s the casting. While a few names from the cast have been announced – Alicia Vikander was the first official announcement back in March, with Armie Hammer re-upping for another Wheatley movie just a few weeks ago – we can also expect the cast to become increasingly more diverse from here on out. Wheatley told Digital Spy in 2013 that he envisioned Freakshift as a movie about immigrants. “”It’ll be an American cast, but it’s kind of an immigrant cast,” Wheatley said at the time, “so they’ll be Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Irish and Polish characters. It won’t be a full-blown cast of Americans, it’ll be people who’ve gone to America to live and they’re first generation.”

Of course, we’re not out of the woods yet. At least part of the success of Freakshift will be contingent on how Free Fire does at the box office; BoxOfficePro has previously projected the film to earn about $24 million at the domestic box office, which would probably be enough of a profit margin to ensure that Wheatley gets a chance to make his next movie. Still, a lot can happen between now and the film’s expected August production date.“I’ve made the cardinal error of talking up projects much too far in advance,” Wheatley admitted when asked about Freakshift back in 2014, noting that, “if you Google me, there’s about a million things that will come up.” Guess what, Ben? We did Google you and a million things did come up, but all will be forgiven if we have a killer case of the crabs come 2018.

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Matthew Monagle is an Austin-based film and culture critic. His work has appeared in a true hodgepodge of regional and national film publications. He is also the editor and co-founder of Certified Forgotten, an independent horror publication. Follow him on Twitter at @labsplice. (He/Him)