Witty and fun, Freaky is a promising blend of body swap horror and slasher cliches. It might not be as effective as the Happy Death Day movies, but I certainly appreciated its R-rated approach and unflinching blood and gore. Vince Vaughn is a treasure, Kathryn Newton is a bad ass and director Christopher Landon has yet again cemented his name as one of the most exciting horror filmmakers working in the industry today.
Happy Death Day/Happy Death Day 2U writer/director Christopher Landon has returned to the horror genre with Freaky, yet another horror/comedy hybrid that he co-wrote with Michael Kennedy, starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton. This smart and witty body-swap feature puts a fresh spin on a familiar story, embracing the genre cliches to make for a film that’s both commentary and homage, slicing and dicing with impressive practical blood and gore effects, yet managing to make you laugh along the way. Freaky isn’t quite as inventive as the Happy Death Day series, but it sure is a load of fun that shakes up another boring movie-going season.
Millie (Kathryn Newton) is a teenager navigating through the world in her own way. She recently lost her father, which has created distance between her mother and sister and kind of killed her self-esteem and motivation to do much of anything. Her friends are supportive, but see the effect that this burden has become and hopes that can soon start to live her life for herself and not just for those around her.
Things get weird when Millie is waiting for a ride home in a dark and abandoned parking lot and she becomes the next victim of the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), a known murderer that is part urban legend, part the real deal.
To make things doubly weird, the Butcher stabs her with an ancient knife that has body-swapping powers, which means that Millie wakes up in his body and he wakes up in hers.
Christopher Landon‘s Freaky is essentially Freaky Friday the 13th, capitalizing on the body-swap story by throwing buckets of blood and gore onto it and quite literally setting the film around a Friday the 13th timeframe.
This gives the film a familiar story with an interesting twist that makes for a highly entertaining and engaging piece of modern horror cinema. Landon is no stranger to genre-blending, having successfully nailed the Groundhog’s Day/horror spin with Happy Death Day and taking things further into sci-fi territory with Happy Death Day 2U (please make a third film already!!). This time around he teams with writer Michael Kennedy and together the two manage to create yet another effective thriller that’s part horror, part comedy, but a whole lot of fun.
What makes Freaky a smashing success is (again) Landon and his writer’s ability to blend together genres so effortlessly. At times, Freaky works just fine as an actual horror movie, with real scares, tension, build up and bloody kills, yet Freaky is also a body comedy that highlights the sheer energy of Vince Vaughn channeling his inner-teenage girl. Freaky is also unafraid to bring a little serious subject matter into the mix, capturing the loss of Millie’s father in a way that adds emotional weight to the story, but never completely bogs it down with melodrama.
This is such an accessible film, because it picks and chooses from so many genres, without ever losing its way on its path to making a film that is competently a product of all the mentioned genres.
Vince Vaughn must be praised as a national treasure for taking on the role of the Blissfield Butcher. For starters, he nails the iconic slow and menacing killer walk, capturing Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers without skipping a beat. Watching him briefly play the role of a killer makes me instantly want to see him dive into a horror movie full-on, because he has the look and feel of a cold and ruthless murderer and he translates it onto the screen so effortlessly.
But then on the flip side, you have him tapping into his unique comedic abilities once Millie and the Butcher swap bodies, which has Vaughn capturing the life of a teenage girl in the body of a rather tall man. This is where the film exceeds any and all expectations, because of Vaughn’s ability to capture the mannerisms and essence of Millie in a way that feels legit and authentic.
Likewise, Kathryn Newton channels her inner-psychopath when the tables are turned and she is now playing the character of the killer. I will admit that her moments felt far too brief and less lively, but part of that is because we are given much less backstory on the Butcher, thus we only really got to see him walk around, be silent and hack’n’slash.
Newton captures that just fine, but doesn’t really get to kick things into full-gear. She does loosen up and explore the manipulation of being a grown man in the body of an appearing helpless teenage girl, which makes for some creative kills.
As I mentioned before, director Christopher Landon and his co-writer Michael Kennedy keep Freaky functioning as a film of all genres, knowing just when to cut to a cool kill or an emotional beat before setting the stage for something bigger. Freaky never gets lost in one genre for too long, which keeps it feeling brisk and energetic.
I’m glad that Blumhouse and Universal made the decision to release this film theatrically, because it really is a fun film that I would imagine plays even better with a big audience. My crowd consisted of maybe ten other people, which still made for an environment of laughter and excitement. I could see this film becoming a midnight-screened cult classic in no time.
For those of you not ready to take the plunge theatrically — I suggest grabbing this as soon as it drops on Blu-ray or VOD, because Freaky really is one of the better horror films of the year. Christopher Landon has clearly cemented himself as one of the must-watch horror filmmakers of this generation and I absolutely cannot wait to see what he does next.