Filled with inventive kills, genuinely funny jokes, and a surprisingly warm heart, Freaky is one of the year’s most enjoyable films. It’s a blood-drenched horror-comedy that goes for big laughs, bigger gore, and wraps it all up in touching pathos that’s bound to catch more than a few viewers off guard. The original pitch for the film was Freaky Friday meets Friday the 13th, and if that isn’t enough to catch your attention, what is? A body-swap comedy crossed with a slasher flick, Freaky feels like it has something for everyone. It’s the best, and most inventive, slasher movie since Scream.
Awkward teen Millie (Kathryn Newton) is going through some stuff. Her father’s death has cast a melancholy shadow over her life and her family, including cop sister Charlene (Dana Drori) and wine-happy mother Coral (Katie Finneran). It’s homecoming week, and while Millie would kind of like to go – especially with Booker (Uriah Shelton), the boy she has a crush on – she also feels guilty about leaving her mother alone. It’s been a year since dad’s death, but the family is still reeling, and mom is frightened of Millie going away to college.
Meanwhile, at school, Millie’s mocked for her unstylish clothes, picked on by teachers, and belittled as her role as the football team’s mascot. And if all that wasn’t emotionally taxing enough, Millie is soon targeted by local serial killer the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), who seems to target teens every time homecoming rolls around.
In the film’s bloody prologue, the Butcher hacks and slashes his way through some rich teens who are partying at a sprawling mansion containing an art collection. And wouldn’t ya know it – that collection’s latest addition is an Aztec dagger that just happens to have some mystical powers. The Butcher snatches the dagger, unaware of its full power. And soon he sets his sights on his next victim – Millie.
But it doesn’t go according to plan. When the Butcher stabs Millie with the blade it triggers a body-swap in which Millie ends up inside the Butcher and the Butcher is now walking around in the body of a teen girl. This is material ripe for comedy, and sure enough, both Newton and Vaughn get big laughs from mimicking each other while playing characters adjusting to their new bodies. There’s a great running bit where the Butcher, now as a teen girl, doesn’t have the physical strength to overpower his victims while Millie, now occupying a towering brute, keeps accidentally knocking people unconscious.
Vaughn gets to have more fun with the switcheroo, running around with the mannerisms of a teen girl suddenly trapped in a very tall man’s body. Newton, as the Butcher in disguise, doesn’t go as big – because she doesn’t have to. Instead, she relishes in the Butcher’s physical confusion at his new smaller frame as well as the character’s inherent evil nastiness, adopting just the right wicked-looking glint in her eyes.
Frantic, Millie – in Butcher form – connects with her best friends/comic relief sidekicks, Josh and Nyla (Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor, both pitch-perfect in their respective roles), who are understandably suspicious at first but eventually come around to realizing the truth. Also roped into the action is Booker, Millie’s crush. Millie worries he doesn’t even know who she is, but she’s mistaken. Booker’s addition allows for a surprisingly sweet romantic moment between the two. In a lesser movie, this entire scene could be played for cheap laughs – the hulking Vaughn and the much smaller Shelton sharing a tender moment. But Freaky isn’t going for low-brow schlock. It wants you to know it has a heart, too, and plays the moment for tenderness rather than full-blown laughs.
Director/co-writer Christopher Landon has tread this ground before. His Happy Death Day films – particularly the superior, wonderfully weird Happy Death Day 2U – balanced horror and surprising kindness hand-in-hand. Here, the snappy script, from Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy, is even more successful. A moment where Millie, still in Butcher form, shares a heart-to-heart with her grieving mom – who of course doesn’t realize she’s talking to her daughter – is so wonderfully warm that it’s bound to elicit more than a few tears. Not many other slasher movies can claim that.
And all of this goes a long way to making Freaky so special. This could’ve been a by-the-numbers slasher riff, but instead, Landon and company are swinging for the fences. Nothing here is phoned-in or watered-down. There are plenty of homages that make things familiar, but none of that makes Freaky any less endearing, or predictable. Horror lovers will particularly rejoice in the film’s embrace of practical gore and clever kills that would make Jason Voorhees proud. Wine bottles are jammed down throats; skulls are crushed by toilet seats; bodies are sawed in half; tennis rackets are jammed through heads. It’s all so twisted and wonderful.
Like Scream, Freaky understands and loves the horror movies that came before it. It takes these raw materials and molds them into its own unique identity, resulting in one of the most refreshing entries in the horror genre in a long time. While bleaker-than-bleak horror seems to be the norm these days – and there’s nothing wrong with that, as so many of these movies are wonderful – there’s room for fun horror, too. Freaky reminds us of that. It also reminds us that horror can have a heart, and in the right creative hands, can result in something truly special.
/Film rating: 8 out of 10
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