“Delightful” is not usually a word used to describe horror movies, yet the body swap romp Freaky (now in cinemas) is exactly that. Here’s critic Travis Johnson’s review.
Christopher Landon’s schtick, if that word isn’t too unkind, seems to be taking well-worn sci-fi/fantasy tropes and parsing them through a horror lens. He did it with the hugely enjoyable Happy Death Day, which spiced up a Groundhog Day style time loop by putting us in the shoes of a mean college queen bee forced to relive the day of her murder over and over again. Now he’s brought us Freaky, which takes the ol’ teenager/adult body swap routine ala Freaky Friday and, like Happy Death Day, changes things up with the simple addition of a relentless psychopathic killer.
It works a treat and, frankly, this is a great movie to go into cold. So if you’re just here for a recommendation and not an analysis, there it is: Freaky is delightful, silly, sharp, funny and occasionally extremely gory. If the fun end of the horror spectrum is your jam, you’ll have a real good time with this one. Off you go.
And now for the deets. Shy good girl Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) is already having a bad time of it before all the supernatural shenanigans get going. Since her father’s death a year ago her mother (Katie Finneran) has both smothered her and hit the bottle pretty hard, while at school she’s bullied by the girls and pretty much ignored by the boys, apart from her two ride-or-die besties, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich). So when she’s attacked by legendary local serial killer The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), it almost seems like a natural escalation of her woes.
However, a little malarkey with the Butcher’s magical dagger (the film doesn’t dwell on the whys and wherefores and so neither will we) sees Millie wake up the next day in the Butcher’s hulking body, and vice versa. So, while our heroine must convince her friends that, yes, it’s really her in Vaughn’s 6’5” frame, the Butcher begins carving his way through the local teen population in Millie’s form.
It’s impossible to overstate just how much fun Freaky is. In lesser hands this could have been a cynical, tossed-off cash grab, but in Landon’s capable hands it’s all rather delightful—not an appellation we’d normally whack on a horror movie, but it is what it is. The opening sequence, in which Vaughn’s masked marauder dispatches a houseful of teens with impressive creativity and gore, sets the tone perfectly.
We’re in OTT Movie Land with this one; every spurt of blood is a geyser and every kill an absolute slaughter. Perhaps more importantly, every line is glib, slick and smart, with Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy making a strong play for Scream scribe Kevin Williamson’s postmodern teen slasher crown. Freaky never pretends to be even remotely realistic; it’s a giddily, gorily enjoyable popcorner that immediately promises to entertain then spends the rest of its running time delivering over and over again.
It also manages to tick off some talking points about gender, identity and sexuality in a way that feels fully integrated into the narrative, with recent efforts like Black Christmas and The Craft: Legacy having shown that’s not necessarily an easy trick. Scene stealer Misha Osherovich gets to have a lot of fun as gay BFF Josh, but what’s really interesting is how Millie, in the Butcher’s body, gets her first kiss from crush Booker (Uriah Shelton), a scene that manages to be funny and tender and transgressive all at once.
A lot of that is down to Vaughn’s committed performance, which is almost perfectly balanced. The cheap and easy way to play teen-girl-in-man’s-body would be to go completely camp, which would quickly careen into homophobic territory. Freaky is smarter than that, and while it never tries to deny that what we’re seeing is supposed to be funny, the film allows Vaughn to portray Millie the Butcher as a complete character, not a collection of girly tics and mannerisms. Newton doesn’t get to do that when she’s playing the Butcher, largely because he’s pretty much Jason Voorhees with the serial numbers filed off, but she does get to carve up some truly odious people.
Freaky is a blast. While Happy Death Day 2U was a bit of a stumble, Landon is back on form here, proving that he’s one of the most talented purveyors of pop horror currently in the game. If every one was as fun as this, I’d take another horror reimagining from him every two years like clockwork. Maybe he’ll do The Goonies next.