Christopher Landon is back with another gleefully gory twist on the slasher genre, with a fun Vince Vaughn at the center.
High school is hard, and Millie (Kathryn Newton) knows it better than most. Her father died a year earlier and her mother (Katie Finneran) has responded by diving deep into the bottle and holding onto Millie tighter than ever. Her sister Maggie (Dana Drori) sees it happening, but has thrown herself too fully into her work as a local cop to do much more than make sarcastic asides. The mean girl, Ryler (Melissa Collazo), makes sure every day to mock Millie’s apparently bargain bin attire. Shop teacher Mr. Fletcher (Alan Ruck) is a jerk all day, every day. Her crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton), barely notices her. Even her best friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), are on her case to break out of her shell.
Then there’s the matter of the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), a magic dagger, and a midnight body swap. Now Millie’s inside the body of her town’s living urban legend, and he’s rocking her body in a way that’s getting her more attention than she ever managed on her own. You know, that old chestnut of high school life.
Freaky has one of those premises that’s so obviously great, you can’t believe you’ve never seen it before: a body swap teen slasher movie. Like any good body-swap comedy, everyone’s going to learn something important — if they can survive the experience, anyway.
A good idea doesn’t guarantee a good movie. But writer-director Christopher Landon, collaborating with Michael Kennedy on the script, continues his streak of hitting paydirt with high concept horror. Like his work on Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2 U, Freaky demonstrates he knows how to mix horror and comedy in a singularly satisfying package.
Less scary than Death Day, Landon instead delivers a generous helping of gore. Given a looser leash by Freaky’s R-rating, the film lets us appreciate such sights the damage a broken wine bottle or tennis racket can do. Fans of realistic blood and guts will likely be underwhelmed. For those that are more into the creativity that delivers the gore than how it looks though several scenes will prove a kick, especially the movie’s McMansion prologue.
Landon’s also gifted at evoking other films without ever feeling like a Xerox. Blissfield’s (a great name for a town plagued by periodic murder sprees, by the way) downtown recalls Back to the Future’s Hill Valley Town Center. The aforementioned prologue recalls Scream. One can even detect a slight hint of Cherry Falls in the teens’ ill-advised insistence on holding their own Homecoming Dance. The subtle nods to past teen and horror delights and a liberal dollop of innards is the cherry on top of a frequently funny and occasionally emotionally-resonant sundae.
In their dual roles as teenage girl and masked murderer, it’s Vaughn and Newton that really make Freaky explode with flavor. Interestingly, they both prove better at their out of body counterparts: Vaughn, despite turning 50 this year, remains a lively physical performer. He gives Millie a loose-limbed giddiness, a joy in the kind of power being a six and a half foot-tall murder machine would give a petite teen who previously felt utterly crushed by the expectations of everyone around her.
The subtle nods to past teen and horror delights and a liberal dollop of innards is the cherry on top of a frequently funny and occasionally emotionally-resonant sundae.
Newton, for her part, gives the Butcher a glimmer he never really has in his usual body. She finds the sly smirk of a killer who’s been suddenly gifted a new lease on life. As a teen girl, he’s the one person no one would suspect of being a slashing sociopath, even as that body comes with physical limitations the Butcher has never had to contend with before. One scene, which sees the Butcher settling scores on Millie’s behalf, is a great bit of physical comedy work. The way Newton shows the killer “discovering” how to use his new body is equally impressive.
As with Happy Death Day 2 U, Landon and his actors surprise by mining parental death for emotional depth. Even as it grows increasingly silly, a conversation between Finneran and Vaughn feels honest and plucks heartstrings. The movie also gets points for being progressive and self-aware without either coming at the detriment of the other or the larger story. This is perhaps best illustrated by the film’s dual climaxes, which make room for both affirmation of identity and a feminist-flavored familial reconciliation.
All of this praise may make Freaky sound a bit like one of those A24 horror films (which are plenty good but not exactly what someone seeing this movie probably wants). Even so, Freaky is a silly, gory delight that does the occasional serious thing without taking itself the least bit seriously.
Freaky is currently playing in theaters (we don’t currently advise attending any movie theaters due to the COVID-19 pandemic; please be responsible with your outdoor activity).
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