2020 | rated R | starring Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, Katie Finneran, Alan Ruck | directed by Christopher Landon | 1 hr 42 mins |
After writer/director Christopher Landon gave a Blumhouse slasher movie spin on the Groundhog Day time loop movie with Happy Death Day and it’s bonkers sequel, Freaky was the next logical step. A slasher movie spin on Freaky Friday body-swap movies, Freaky again has Landon’s mix of creative bloodletting, quirky tone, cartoonish characters, hyper-topical, technology-dependent teens and social media-aware dialog. Some of it really works against the slasher tropes but more often it rings flat, which is a disappointment. Bare in mind this is a review written by someone who gave his Happy Death Day 2U a near perfect score and thinks it should be immediately rushed into the National Film Archives for preservation – so I’m down for this.
Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) is a shy high school girl who is bullied all the time by school jocks, mean girls and the shop teacher (Alan Ruck); used to putting everyone else – including her mother (Katie Finneran, also great to see again) – ahead of her. When one night she is left at school and is attacked by the legendary Blissfield Valley Butcher (Vince Vaughn), the two wake up the next morning in each other’s bodies: the Butcher in Millie’s 5″5′ frame in a teenage girl’s bedroom and Millie in the large 6 foot man’s body in a serial killer’s liar. Along with her two friends Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’Connor), Millie races to catch the killer and reverse the spell before it becomes permanent.
Similar to how Jessica Rothe’s performance powers Happy Death Day, Freaky is driven by a duel-wielding of fun performances from Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn who seem to have a great time playing each other. Landon once again gives his actors juicy roles to vamp on and it’s great to see Vaughn back in full comedy mode here.
We know Landon can go for broke here and Freaky provides fertile opportunity to go full-tilt bonkers, but the film feels oddly restrained. Instead of fleshing out some of the more absurd possibilities of the body swap, gender swap and serial killer mind swap, the movie sacrifices all of that for momentum saddling the action with a 24 hour ticking clock to set things right. As a result everything feels rushed, everything is delivered with tight maximum efficiency and it scrapes the surface level of a lot of interesting ideas – notably a metaphorical illusion to the gender identity pronoun debate – in favor of moving to the next thing. This kind of speed can work when generating into frothy escape velocity, when it doesn’t it falls flat, which is what his jokes do here. A lot of Freaky is built on now-tired tropes: the flamboyant gay friend color commenting on the action, and the progressive word police friend who corrects everyone’s pronouns (am I watching Black Christmas again?), the overly cruel mean girls, the rapey jocks, the character overcoming the loss of a parent, it’s all here. Landon’s jokes seem stuck in the 90s where a minority character might be killed off instead of be completely immune to danger and the broad “men do this, women do this” jokes rule the script. There are better body swap jokes in Jumanji.
Like I said there are hits and misses. Landon does a few great things here too, the best of which is keeping his eye on Millie’s arc, which results in a wedged-in 2nd, but more satisfying, ending. He has a lot of inventive, pleasantly R-rated, kills too involving wine bottles, tennis rackets, hooks and chainsaws. The tone for the violence is just right, ghastly but cartoonish enough.
Coming just 1 year after Happy Death Day 2U, Freaky feels rushed into production and finalizing to meet the next year’s Friday the 13th release date. The annual release formula that drained life out of Saw, Paranormal Activity and Assassin’s Creed seems to have taken it’s tole on Landon’s latest live-action cartoon. A few more rounds with the script to really feel out the most absurd corners of this wonderful premise could have easily tip this movie into a lot more wacky, chaotic fun. As is, it’s an agreeable 100 minutes.