Review: Slasher friendly 'Freaky' puts inventive twist on body swap genre
Courtesy of Universal
Attempting to build up a filmography of slasher friendly flicks akin to Wes Craven or John Carpenter, Blumhouse muse Christoper Landon - the filmmaker behind both “Happy Death Day” films - is at again in the inventive “Freaky” which puts a unique horror twist on the tired body swap genre. Writer Michael Kennedy along with co-writer Landon infuse the picture with a pro feminist agenda, toss in commentary on gendered roles, and cococt plenty of memorable gory mutilations for the horror geeks at home.
The premise is entertaining, and though we’ve seen the body swap concept in a high school setting before, never have we seen the adult participant be an infamous serial killer who slaughters teenagers be supernaturally transferred into the mind of those he preys upon. Talk about a killer twist, but that’s exactly what happens. The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn - returning to top notch physical comedy form after a long hiatus) is known around town as an urban legend, a sizable beast whose fancy is murdering teenagers during Homecoming weekend. Missing from the scene for almost twenty years, the slasher has come out of retirement just in time for Friday the 13th.
The first twenty minutes of “Freaky” are unapologetically expository. After we witness clueless teens get the bloody axe in the opening sequence (a nostalgic throwback that pays homage to “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween”) we meet 17 year old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) still coping with the loss of her father one year prior, and who hasn’t made plans to commemorate Homecoming with her pals Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich). Instead, she plans on attending a regional theater production of “The Wizard of Oz” (one of many theater callbacks in the film) with her fragile, alcoholic mother.
“Freaky” runs through a gauntlet of teenage movie troupes in the opening minutes: audiences are introduced to the cute boy Millie is crushing on, jocks who don’t understand what “consent” means, teachers that are jerks, and harmless schoolyard bullies. Landon is purposefully leaning into these elements to help establish nostalgic vibes. If you need help raising the body count later in the film, we must first get an idea of who will be on the chopping block. But the film actually begins when Millie is left stranded at the football field with the Butcher ready to pounce, and by some voodoo trickery around an ancient Aztec dagger, the two awaken the next morning in each other's body.
Up until this point Vaugh hasn’t muttered a single word and is now a chatterbox wondering how they woke up inside an abandoned mill filled with rotting animal caracusses. Meanwhile, Newton awakens to a worried mother trying to calm tensions from the previous evening. The two characters couldn’t be more polar opposite and paves the way for an inevitable makeover: The real Millie’s wardrobe consisted of thrifty buys and she never broke the rules, but Millie-the-Butcher enters school the next day with a hip new red leather jacket, and is ready to turn heads. This leaves the real Millie scrambling to convince her pals she’s the real deal, albeit, stuck inside a different body (forcing Vaughn to hilariously recreate the school’s mascot cheer to prove it) and figure out how to protect her from being captured by local police, including Millie’s sister who is a cop.
What I liked most about Landon and Kenendy’s approach is how subtly they sneak in messages about victims, feminism, and don’t overly exploit gendered themed jokes, although there’s a fun bit about Millie discovering how a penis operates that had me laughing against my better judgement. For the most part, the comedic tropes write themselves: whether it’s Millie-as-Butcher finding new strength or prodding at her friends in the back of the car to move their seats up for more legroom, “Freaky” knows how to push laughs. It helps that both actors’ rise to the challenge of embodying their counterpart, a fun exercise allowing Vaughn an opportunity to display a charm that, once upon a time, opened big movies. Underneath the surface, however, “Freaky” is more than a comeback vehicle, but an exceptional showcase for the quartet of rising stars, representing a rare slasher flick that illustrates soul while never losing sight of its bloody roots.
Freaky opens in theaters (that are open) nationwide Friday November 13th.
COVID-19: Here at TheOnlyCritic.com, we’re committed to covering theatrical releases, but there’s still inherent risks in regards to going inside movie theaters. Please make sure you look up your local theaters COVID-19 guidelines and procedures before purchasing a ticket, and if you don’t feel comfortable going into a theater, please don’t. A positive review of an exclusive theatrical release is not an endorsement to put your health and safety at risk. In most cases, critics receive digital screeners or are invited to socially distanced press screenings, which defers heavily from what you might experience.