Directed by Christopher Landon.
Starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Alan Ruck, Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton, Dana Drori, Dustin Lewis, Kelly Lamor Wilson, Melissa Collazo, Nick Arapoglou, and Radhesh Aria.
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.
It’s always wise to establish the strength and presence of a serial killer before anything else in a slasher, which co-writer/director Christopher Landon (already successful within the genre having launched the popular Happy Death Day series) effectively does in Freaky by way of a group of underage high school students partaking in every cardinal sin of 80s slasher movies subsequently getting slaughtered one by one. However, Christopher Landon (working alongside Michael Kennedy, whose previous credits include the animation department making him a logical choice for blending comedy and horror) also sets a tone that is both playfully ultraviolent and darkly funny with heaps of self-awareness. Even before the central body swap premise kicks in, the filmmaker is having a blast whether it’s killing off unlikable teenagers with wine bottles leaving blood spraying from the throat, or encouraging audiences to pick up on genre references (the mask worn is strikingly similar to Jason’s hockey mask).
The murderer on the loose in question is Vince Vaughn’s Blissfield Butcher, an urban legend that turns out to be true, seeking a mythical Aztec dagger that I’m still not quite sure of the intended purpose, but needless to say upon acquiring it and – on the following day – attempting to use Kathryn Newton’s Millie as a sacrifice, the ritual fails but not without placing their sentience inside each other’s bodies. Naturally, the rest of the film sees the characters looking for a way to reverse the effects meanwhile the butcher uses his newly acquired vessel to go on another killing spree.
Before that goes on there is a good amount of time to get to know Millie, who is both grieving the one-year loss of her father while also putting her own life on hold to emotionally support her mother (Katie Finneran) that is having trouble moving on and not ready for her daughter to depart to college. Millie’s sister is also a police officer (Dana Drori), has a crush on the handsome and kind Booker (Uriah Shelton), and has a pair of diversified best friends in the form of boisterously gay Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Black Nyla (Celeste O’Connor). Sadly, that about sums up the secondary characters, although there is room for pointed jokes suggesting they are not going to survive any slasher antics for being gay and Black.
With all due respect, the Freaky Friday concept has been explored just about as much as Groundhog Day, so it was always going to take a clever angle to make this worthwhile. Then again, Christopher Landon already reworked Groundhog Day to pleasant results with Happy Death Day, so maybe there was never any reason to be cynical. Nonetheless, Freaky is also his most skillfully directed project so far, not just in the way of gruesomely creative kills (there’s a sadistically fun woodshop murder) but also in terms of photography with moody lighting and thoughtful shots playing homage to the classics that paved the way (there’s a great Halloween nostalgia pull involving a knife going through a door that made me smile).
Christopher Landon is also rightfully concerned with updating the gender politics of this story, finding smart and tender ways to have Millie inside of Vince Vaughn’s body having a discussion about familial loss and space. In some ways, the story takes things further than expected in a romantic sense seemingly with the goal of shutting down any transphobic criticism that could be lobbed at the movie. Most intriguingly, the bullied and decidedly uncool Millie finds empowerment within the imposing physical body of Vince Vaughn (directors are on a hot streak making excellent use of his stature and physique ever since the outstanding Brawl in Cell Block 99), choosing to finally stand up for herself.
Freaky also doesn’t settle just for bringing these topics up, as it makes good on its message with a satisfying finale playing up themes and genre thrills. And thankfully so considering the narrative does follow a predictable template the entire way through. Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton are wonderful in their roles, with the former adjusting body language and vernacular appropriately whereas Newton throws on a killer red jacket and puts on a death stare prepared to kill anyone that gets in her way. Coincidently enough, her enemies also tend to be those that bully Millie, so anyone that has ever crossed her is in for a bad Friday the 13th. Freaky is another exercise from Christopher Landon that leans into originality and familiarity in equal measure with charm and diabolically funny bloodshed, successfully continuing to update a beloved subgenre of horror for modern times.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]