Basic switch. Killer new look.
It’s hard to believe that it’s taken us this long to get a body-swap slasher movie. Similar to what filmmaker Christopher Landon and producer Jason Blum did with their ghoulish re-working of Groundhog Day (1993), with the one-two punch of Happy Death Day (2017) and Happy Death Day 2U (2019), they’re back with the insanely entertaining Freaky, a mash-up of the Freaky Friday films and Friday the 13th series. While this isn’t the freshest concept around (we’ve seen this story multiple times before), Freaky is elevated by a sharp script, some decent gore, and a couple of killer performances from Vince Vaughn, who plays a demented serial killer, and Kathryn Newton, as the introverted high schooler that winds up in his body.
The movie opens on ‘Wednesday the 11th’ in classic horror movie fashion, where a group of teenagers are brutally murdered in a lavish manor by a killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), who offs the youths before stealing an ancient dagger known as La Dola. The next day (the 12th), we meet Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), a timid high school teen who’s recently lost her father and is being bullied and picked on at school. That night she finds herself alone in the school parking lot after attending a homecoming football game, where she performed as the school mascot, the Blissfield Beaver. Of course, she’s attacked by the Butcher, who impales Millie with La Dola before fleeing the scene.
Alas, the following morning (Friday the 13th), Millie wakes up inside the body of her killer, who’s now in her petite teenage skin, taking control of her life, which she shares with her widowed alcoholic mother, Coral (Katie Finneran), and her big sister, police officer Charlene (Dana Drori). Now, with Millie inside the demented madman, she must stay out of sight as the town searches for the Blissfield Butcher. All the while, Millie must try to convince her friends — the flamboyant Josh (Misha Osherovich) and outspoken Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) — that she’s now a middle-aged man, with Millie eventually learning that unless she stabs the Butcher with the dagger before midnight, the body switch will be irreversible.
Written by Landon and Michael Kennedy, Freaky instantly draws viewers in with a tense blood-soaked opener that’s reminiscent of the Friday the 13th/ Halloween series and rarely lets up from there. Furthermore, Freaky is hoisted further by the work of cinematographer Laurie Rose, Free Fire (2016), and production designer Hillary Andujar, Scare Package (2019), who create a bright, eerie backdrop for the ensuing madness.
While the history of the Butcher and the magical dagger are both a little undercooked, there’s a real humanity to Newton’s Millie, who is a more complex character and is given a depth that’s akin to that of Rothe’s heroine from the Happy Death Day films. With that said, moviemakers have a great time with the whole body-swapping concept, chiefly when it comes to watching two very different people awkwardly slip into their new skins. Millie is a shy teen who struggles to connect with her hard-drinking mother and longs for her dream boy Booker Strode (Uriah Shelton), who barely seems to notice her. The Butcher, however, is the complete opposite of Millie; he’s a strong, intimidating monster who’s used to forcefully getting his way.
There’s quite a big divide when it comes to these two characters, but the performers do a tremendous job in making the switch work. Vince Vaughn, Wedding Crashers (2005), uses his large physique early on to communicate menace and then turns to his old school comic chops when he’s playing Millie, eliciting a ton of laughs; there’s a very funny bathroom scene, and another when he’s performing a silly high school cheer (to prove that he is, in fact, Millie). Whether he’s freaking out with his BFFs or connecting with crush Booker (a bit that’s both absurd and touching), Vaughn is totally believable as Millie and seems to be having a helluva time.
Similarly, Kathryn Newton, Blockers (2018), is excellent as both Millie and the Butcher, effortlessly transforming from a withdrawn teen to an icy-cold killer, the Butcher giving Millie a new sense of style, ultimately exposing her untapped potential. Given that Landon’s Happy Death Day films were rated PG-13, he seems to be relishing Freaky’s R rating here, going to town with the blood-splattered kills, with Newton turning heads and oozing empowerment, taking out those who’ve been giving her a hard time at school, such as mean girl Ryler (Melissa Collazo) and her unsympathetic woodshop teacher, Mr. Bernardi (Alan Ruck), who gets the best death scene in the film.
Elsewhere, Misha Osherovich, The Goldfinch (2019), and Celeste O’Connor, Wetlands (2019), give great support as Millie’s pals Josh and Nyla, the pair getting caught up in the folly and delivering a handful of laughs, chiefly the overtly gay Josh who, at one point, is tasked with keeping an eye on the Butcher, who’s been tied to a chair at Josh’s home. Telly actress Katie Finneran is also memorable as Millie’s grieving mom Coral, who shares a sweet moment with Vaughn in a thrift store change room, unaware that she is actually talking to her daughter. Really, though, kudos to the filmmakers for putting together such a progressive cast without making too much of a fuss about it.
All up, Freaky is a breezy 102 minutes of wicked fun and another confident collaboration by Landon and Blumhouse — give it a stab, you won’t be disappointed. Vaughn (who hasn’t been this good in years) and Newton deliver in spades, while filmmaker Landon dishes out exactly what’s promised on the tin. Who knows, this might just be the start of another freaky franchise for Landon.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Freaky is released through Universal Pictures Australia