Body swaps, blood and guts in Freaky
Director: Christopher Landon Starring: Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn Running Time: 101 minutes
When you’ve got a slam dunk of a premise, a genre movie that can be summed up in five words or less to producers, marketers and audiences alike, it might be easy to rest on your laurels. “Freaky Friday the 13th” as with director Christopher Landon’s previous “Groundhog Day but Scream” Happy Death Day films, is a clear, fun idea to build a movie around, and one that can spin a handy profit on a low-budget. Thankfully, Landon and co continue to have a lot of fun with their frights in Freaky , a horror comedy that revolves around a strong and silent slasher killer swapping bodies with the meek and mousy teenage girl he’d usually be menacing.
Landon’s movies have the plot of a “dude we should do a movie where…” late night conversations, but with the effort and ingenuity to actually see them through into a good idea, and Freaky continues that form. Rather than relying on the thin idea of what both a Slasher Killer and their Final Girl would be, the film builds up its central characters, to their benefit when the bodies swap. Played by Kathryn Newton, young Millie Kessler is bubbly but bullied, a goofy girl who shrinks easily at bad treatment from bullies, mean girls and shitty teachers. Newton has a bright personality that she can turn up or way down as needed as Millie goes from relaxed and confident around her besties Nyla and Josh, to shy and stammering around, well, everybody else, rocked by the death of her dad and the way its being handled by her cop sister and over-drinking mom.
Things take a turn for the even worse for Millie when she is stalked and brutally stabbed late one night by the Blissfield Butcher, a sadistic and inscrutable serial killer played by Vince Vaughn. But because of the magic dagger the Butcher used (the movie is delightfully and rightly unconcerned with the specifics) they wake up in each other’s bodies.
Vaughn has a great time with the dual roles, using his size and physicality to serve up the horror and comedy in this horror comedy as needed. As Millie, the jokes aren’t about how this big guy is acting like a girl, but how this girl specifically acts in this body – running ungainly with a bigger gait, realising and forgetting her own strength, cheerily gabbing even when people are terrified of her. The Butcher meanwhile happily adjusts to the disguise and the opportunities for murder that it presents, running through a body count of Millie’s tormentors, with Newton capably showing the pros and cons of a Jason Vorhees mind operating inside something much smaller and lighter.
The affection on show for classic slashers is obvious, infectious and genuine. From Michael Myers head tilts to Elm Street fog machines, the influences are worn on Freaky’s sleeve and it offers horror fans the kills to match the references. Freaky is fun and breezy but it’s not necessarily for the squeamish. They range from creative use of the highschool setting to the wildly outlandish, but while they might be a bit much for some, there’s also something interesting going on in the story beyond just sick glee.
Body swap stories usually have a straightforward moral about what we learn from walking in another person’s shoes. Ask even the biggest horror enthusiast to list off the traits of Freddy, Jason et al and it would probably take a while for ‘confidence’ to come up on the list, but Freaky cannily identifies it as something that comes pretty naturally to someone unstoppable. Millie is onto something when she talks about feeling empowered by her newfound strength, and watching her body swag around school in a red leather jacket and an invincible air gives her a whole new way to see herself. She even has a guilty glee about the power she now has, something that feels in conversation with horror generally, with an intriguing undercurrent. Better and better placed writers will no doubt delve into Freaky’s depiction of how differently one can feel in different bodies. All in all it makes for enjoyable horror with a smart mind behind the horror.
(3.5 / 5)