Freaky (2020)

28 Feb

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It’s time once again for director Christopher Landon to put a satirical horror spin on popular cinematic comedy! He did it before with the time-loop concept of Groundhog Day to make the fun, clever Happy Death Day movies–this time, he takes the body-swap concept of “Freaky Friday,” adds doses of Friday the 13th, and gives us “Freaky Friday the 13th”…or just “Freaky.” Thus results in a body-swap comedy with a moderate-to-high body count and a fresh take on the subgenre that entertained me throughout the 100-minute running time.

Vince Vaughn may not have played a convincing Norman Bates (as evidenced in the unfortunate 1998 “Psycho” remake), but “Freaky” makes a compelling case that he could make for a terrifying Jason Voorhees. In the bitingly satirical cold open of the film, Vaughn is totally convincing as a silent small-town serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (who even has a mask that looks very similar to Jason’s traditional hockey mask), who slaughters horny, stoned, drunken, idiotic teenagers in spectacularly gruesome fashion.

(Btw, unlike the PG-13-ified “Happy Death Day” movies, director Landon is given both an R rating and free reign to give us some truly graphic kills–this is not for the faint of heart; a lot of this material is for horror buffs.)

From that murder spree, the killer obtains a mystical cursed Aztec dagger (known as “Le Dola”). We’re uncertain of what its powers are until the Butcher advances towards his next would-be victim: a shy, wallflower high-school girl named Millie (Kathryn Newton). The Butcher uses the Dola to stab Millie, which results in a supernatural switching of minds and bodies. So, as Millie, having barely escaped the killer’s attack, awakens the following morning (which happens to be Friday the 13th, naturally), she discovers that she now looks exactly like the Blissfield Butcher. And vice versa, as the Butcher awakens in Millie’s body and decides to go to school and do some unsuspected killing!

Millie is able to convince her best friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), that this 6’5″ hulking middle-aged man who looks like a killer is actually their bestie in this body (though not without some wacky hijinks in the funniest scene of the movie), and together, they realize they have to reverse the process before midnight or else the change will be permanent. So now they have to retrieve the dagger from police evidence storage and stop the Butcher (in Millie’s body) from killing more people before it’s too late.

Of course, you know people are going to die anyway–as fun as the general concept of this story is, it is fun to go back to the old-fashioned horror-movie trope that among the bodies waiting to be piled up are those who are just asking for it, such as the idiot teens in the opening, some rapey misogynistic jocks, and probably the worst teacher you could have in high school (played by Alan Ruck, Cameron from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”). The way many of these people are killed are almost too good for them. (As a side-note, it’s also funny that this determined killer now has to put up with a petite, weaker new body.)

“Freaky” has a lot of fun with its horror and comedy, but it also has a heart to it as well. In particular, there’s a moving scene in which Millie, in this new body, finds a way to really talk to her troubled mother (Katie Finneran). And that’s not even the best scene in the film–that comes later, when Millie’s crush, a nice football jock named Booker (Uriah Shelton), understands that even as Millie has a new body, her mind is still intact. Whether this was the intent or not, “Freaky” was able to be a new modern movie that commented subtly on concepts such as gender identity.

Director Christopher Landon clearly has fun mixing genres, and I’m curious to see what else he has up his sleeve. (Maybe he could make a horror version of “Anchorman” or “The Hangover” next.) With a talented cast (including Vaughn and Newton each having fun with their dual roles) and every rule in the horror-movie handbook as well as a clever script co-written by Landon and Michael Kennedy, “Freaky” doesn’t break a lot of new ground in either the horror genre or the body-swap subgenre but it is still a hell of a fun time.

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