Director Christopher Landon’s Freaky is breathlessly stolen by Vince Vaughn, who delivers a character both terrifying and lovable in equal measure.
Christopher Landon and his co-writer, Michael Kennedy, deliver a love letter to the ’80s slasher movie that’s wrapped up in an important message of self-identity in Freaky. Starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, and Uriah Shelton, this teen scream takes the framework of movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th and wraps a clever body-swap premise into the tight, at times hilarious script that’s punctuated with snarky dialogue in abundance. This has been a winning formula with Landon before, as proven by the success with his previous collaboration with horror genre juggernaut Jason Blum and Blumhouse Productions, Happy Death Day and its sequel Happy Death Day 2U. Director Christopher Landon’s Freaky is breathlessly stolen by Vince Vaughn, who delivers a character both terrifying and lovable in equal measure.
Newton shines as high school outcast Millie Kessler, who finds herself squaring off with the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn), a serial killer who was previously thought to be little more than urban legend. After slaughtering a group of teenagers just days before the town’s Homecoming festivities, the Butcher’s attack on Millie results not in her death, but causes her to trade bodies with the Butcher on the same day as the big Homecoming dance instead. She must enlist the help of her best friends Nyla (O’Connor) and Josh (Osherovich) to save her crush, Booker (Shelton), and keep her family safe. Not only does the Butcher pose more of a threat in the body of a teenage girl, but the mystical dagger that caused them to swap bodies carries a hefty curse — any chance at a reversal must be done within 24 hours after the initial exchange, or the trade is permanent.
Though the supporting cast members all get their moments to shine, Freaky is very much Millie’s story, no matter who is in the role. While Vaughn technically spends more of the movie’s run time playing Millie than the Butcher, the opening sequence is ripped right out of a classic slasher movie, complete with inventive kills and more than a few horror movie Easter eggs. Here, Vaughn is unleashed in menacing form that echoes Kane Hodder’s now-iconic turn as Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th movie franchise. He’s a powerful, lumbering presence who uses his environment to slaughter and stalk without his teenage victims having the slightest clue what’s going on until it’s entirely too late. Like any good slasher movie, the set-up and pacing is quick, telling only enough to get the audience engaged in what’s in store without dwelling on tedious exposition. Before the body swap happens, Millie is shown to be low on the social totem pole, a bright young woman who pines for the affections of a high school football player, and is subjected to typical bullying from both the popular girls and jocks, who make snide comments about her being the school’s beaver mascot.
This set-up provides the perfect background for the body swap to happen, strange as that seems at first glance. For a premise like this to work, there needs to not only be a good reason, but there also must be proper development to keep it from just becoming a hollow plot device. In that regard, the mystical dagger is arguably Freaky‘s weakest point, but Landon and Kennedy needed some reason to justify the exchange. It’s otherwise not that important, and easily forgotten until it becomes crucial in ensuring Millie can return to her body. The swap itself sees Vaughn shifting from slasher titan to soft, even goofy Millie, who has a secret handshake with her best friends and is still reeling from the loss of her father, who died a year before. Despite being a horror movie, some of the best scenes are where Vaughn is interacting (as Millie) with those closest to her in a way that reflects how difficult the path of self-discovery and self-acceptance can be for young people.
Technically speaking, Freaky is a sleek, well-produced movie that’s atmospheric and features some satisfyingly gory kills. This is where the R rating is played out to full advantage; it announces its presence with authority in the opening scene. Often, horror movie fans cite a PG-13 rating as a downfall. Freaky would have been watered-down by anything less. The blood and violence really embraces the overall aesthetic, and adds a level of danger that’s exciting and allows for complete immersion. There’s an underlying promise that when characters do die, they’ll die violently, and that makes each and every demise all the more impactful. Nothing is wasted, and Landon and Kennedy make their passion for the genre clear by not cutting corners. In order to be successful in the slasher sub-genre, there needs to be a mixture of disposable and lovable characters. This combination makes the drawn out scenes where Millie and the Butcher are working within the confines of a single setting to simultaneously save Blissfield’s teenagers and extinguish them all the more exciting.
Like the Happy Death Day movies, Freaky deploys a charming message at the core of the story about a person being so much more than their exterior. The age-old adage about one’s insides being what counts truly comes into play, and there are a surprising number of heartwarming moments that almost make the audience forget they’re watching a horror movie, at least until the Butcher strikes again. Other movies have tried this blend and failed, but it’s become a marked success for Landon, and allows him to set himself apart from other creators in the genre. In essence, he’s created his own style of teen-oriented slasher movies where a message and bloodshed can co-exist on opposite sides of a strange coin.
Social commentary is often utilized in horror movies, and Landon shows enough genre savvy to take that trend, which has seen a mighty resurgence in the last decade, and apply it with a deft hand that gets his point across without beating the audience over the head. Landon’s true message is not only one that many people could benefit from hearing during the stress and strain of 2020, but also one made all the more special by being directed specifically at the world’s youth.
Next: Freaky Movie Trailer
Freaky releases in theaters on November 13, 2020. It is 101 minutes long and is rated R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, and language throughout.
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Key Release Dates
- Freaky (2020)Release date: Nov 13, 2020
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