Synopsis – After swapping bodies with a deranged serial killer, a young girl in high school discovers she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent.
My Take – Though he managed to gain attention from genre fans for bringing in a unique spin to a dying franchise in the form of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) and an overcrowded genre with Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), it was until the release of Happy Death Day (2017) and its widely underrated sequel, Happy Death Day 2U (2019), that Christopher Landon began to be considered as a bonafide filmmaker to watch out for.
By deliciously mashing up the concepts of ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘Scream’ together, director Landon displayed a particular ability to infuse rarely seen charm, humor and heart into a scream fest, and succeeded in making it stand out. For his latest, director Landon continues his hot streak, as evident from the title itself, by giving the body swap formula, popularized by films like ‘Freaky Friday’, a bloody twist on the lines of ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ franchises.
And as one could have guessed, the film delivers on exactly what it promises, a teen slasher/body swap hybrid with plenty of laughs and blood. While it may not be an instant classic, yet manages to provide loads of entertainment, an element further elevated by two strong central performances.
By swiftly darting between comedy, drama, and horror, a formula he’s more or less perfected at this point in his career, here, director Landon once again displays real talent for tackling this usually very difficult genre by checking all the important boxes without losing a single beat.
The story follows Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), a 17-year-old who is still grieving the loss of her father a year ago. While her sister, Char (Dana Drori), has fittingly taken the role of matriarch, appropriate considering her career in the police force, her mother (Katie Finneran) has taken to the bottle. High school also isn’t particularly promising as Booker (Uriah Shelton), the boy she likes doesn’t seem interested, and she’s constantly picked on by teachers and students alike, with her two best friends, Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’Connor), being the only ones determined to help her sail through this difficult time.
However, her life takes a cruel turn when she comes face to face with the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), an aging serial killer, who in his attempt to kill her with a mystical knife profoundly changes their lives. Waking up to realize that the two have swapped bodies, Millie now has 24 hours to stop the killer and switch back in order to avoid this permanent change.
For 101 minutes, director Christopher Landon seems to determined to provide just fun that involves plenty of tongue-in-cheek horror comedy humor. Like the Happy Death Day films, the film revels in director Landon’s grasp of scathing and often wildly inappropriate one-liners and banter, along with jump scares, slow camera pans, dumb teenagers doing all the wrong things, and the mean teacher who doesn’t believe the student when they tell him a killer is on the loose. Not only does he along with writer Michael Kennedy pay loving tribute to the famous slashers of horror history, but they aren’t also afraid to distinctively and importantly transplant the slasher into today’s world.
As a director Christopher Landon seems to understand that the best-known slasher villains, such as Halloween’s Michael Myers or Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, derived their terror in part from how physically intimidating and unstoppable they seemed. So many famous horror-film kills involve murderous men picking up their victims like toys and tossing them around, shrugging off stab wounds and gunfire with zombie like indifference.
Here, Vaughn himself is 6 foot 5, and the film emphasizes his size by surrounding him with diminutive teens. So when the roles reverse, and Vaughn is suddenly running screaming from a teenager holding a kitchen knife, the visual gag is electrified with genre-bending self-awareness. This is the sly undertone to the film, as with many a body-swap comedy, both characters unlock hidden potential in their new personages. Vaughn-as-Millie confesses to enjoying the Butcher’s bullying size and strength, but although she’s still scared of what the Butcher (played by Newton) is doing in her own body, she’s also beguiled by how confident he seems while doing it.
Director Christopher Landon also isn’t afraid to stage effective, surprisingly elaborate kills for example the one moment with a buzz saw that’s particularly intricate, all the while bracing the irreverent without sacrificing the scare factor, a combination that’s been missing from a lot of Hollywood’s horror in the past decade.
As fun as the film can be, it owns a handful of faults, like much of the high school stuff, i.e, mean girls, jock bros, the rest, crosses the line from poking fun at tropes and archetypes and becomes rote, bland, and overly familiar. That is, of course, the point. To a degree. However, it attempts to eviscerate these stereotypes in a way that’s been done so many times it’s become a stereotype in itself and has no bite left. Still, it’s humor and heart that drive the film home.
It’s always interesting to see body swap films because actors are given the unique opportunity to fully capture two completely different performances. Granted, Vince Vaughn has been a household name for going on two decades, but it’s refreshing to see him fully embrace this role here. His goofy charm and the charisma that initially made him famous are on display here like they haven’t been in while. He uses his oft-forgotten pure physicality to be intimidating and frightening when playing the Butcher, but ably captures the essence of a teenage girl without playing into stereotypes or generalizations.
But the real star of the film is Kathryn Newton, who is perfectly charming as Millie, but once she’s playing the Butcher, she is forced to trade high school angst for blood-lust, it’s hilarious to see Newton struggle with the restrictions of her new body, and yet equally awesome to see her takes names in her killer new duds and moves.
The supporting cast is also fantastic with both Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor excelling with fun and engaging performances, while Uriah Shelton scoring with one of the film’s most scene-stealing moment. In smaller roles, Alan Ruck, Melissa Collazo, Dana Drori and Katie Finneran are also effective. On the whole, ‘Freaky’ is a blood-soaked hilarious horror film that provides big, broad, gruesome, scathing fun.
Directed – Christopher Landon
Rated – R
Run Time – 101 minutes