There’s a recent trend coming out of Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions. It seems the modern mainstream masters of horror have found yet another niche to delightfully exploit by taking familiar cinema plot formats and giving them a horror twist. Their first attempt was a horror spin on the “Groundhog Day” time-loop concept with “Happy Death Day” and its sequel. Now the studio has produced a horror spin on “Freaky Friday” which was fittingly released on Friday the 13th in November and finally hit streaming this past weekend. “Freaky”, directed by Christopher Landon who also lead both “Happy Death Day” movies and has become a rising star in horror, takes the body-swap idea and puts a darkly comedic touch on the concept. Showcasing what happens when a high schooler and a serial killer swap bodies, “Freaky” is a delightfully good time that once again takes mainstream horror in a familiar but inspired direction.
“Freaky” stars Vince Vaughn as the Blissfield Butcher, an aging serial killer who comes out of semi-retirement to haunt the town of Blissfield Valley. When he targets Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), a tormented and bullied high schooler, he unknowingly stabs her with a mythical blade that switches their bodies for the next 24 hours. As the Butcher goes on a new murder spree in Millie’s body, Millie tries to avoid detection in the Butcher’s body and works with her friends to try and reverse the curse before the change becomes permanent. Like “Happy Death Day”, “Freaky” takes a popular and frankly cliché idea and puts a horror spin on it effectively mixing humor and terror into a tightly crafted package. In fact, I dare say “Freaky” does an even better job at accomplishing this mission than “Death Day” did amping up the violence and bloodshed while also finding a much more effective blend between its humor and horror elements.
The cast is a big part of why this movie works. Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton each play duel roles spending about half of the movie as either the Butcher or Millie. Vaughn is hilariously committed to portraying a teenage girl in a grown man’s body while also proving to be intimidating when he portrays the Butcher. It’s a seamless transition that shows Vaughn’s natural charisma and comedic talents. However, while Vaughn has gotten a lot of deserved attention it’s his co-star Kathryn Newton who actually impressed me more. She feels fitting to play the social outcast Millie and does a fine job with that character, but it’s her turn as the Butcher that to me was the highlight of the movie. Newton takes her innocent image and uses it to her advantage somehow making a small-statured high school teenager look menacing with little more than effective stares and a creepy tone in her voice as well as subtle mannerisms that help differentiate the Butcher’s posture and personality from Millie’s. Both of these actors deserve credit for working off each other well creating a fun dynamic and are different enough to perfectly sell the film’s message, that inner strength doesn’t come from muscles and skill but determination and a will to survive.
But it takes more that fun performances to make a movie like this work. It’s a horror movie after all, and a comedic horror at that, so the delivery and content also need to bring the laughs and scares without either genre overshadowing the other. “Freaky” finds an awesome mix of the two with some of the most creative kills in modern horror including a opening sequence that, for me, was one of the most entertaining beginnings to any slasher film I have ever seen. The opening sequence featuring several creative and unapologetically brutal deaths that had me both cringing and laughing at the same time. Things don’t slow down either as every kill from the Butcher feels inspired and unique especially when compared to previous genre films while also littering in several references to classic horror killers like Jason and Leatherface. Somehow “Freaky” strikes a perfect balance in tones inspiring terror at the thought of being killed like the victims but also hilarity at the fact that someone sat down and conceived these sequences. The over-the-top deaths also don’t out of place because we’re presented with an aging killer looking to enhance his reputation and legacy who is handed the perfect disguise as a young woman who can hide in plain sight and allows him access to new killing methods. Why wouldn’t he get more creative?
“Freaky” also contains a great bit of self-awareness and works hard to subvert many horror tropes while also embracing others. It also feels like a subtle examination of society’s changing understanding of gender identity giving it some added subtext. Written by Michael Kennedy and its director Christopher Landon, both to my understanding openly gay screenwriters, “Freaky” includes a black and gay friend to Millie who are both just as strong willed and smart as Millie herself and makes numerous references to the use of gender pronouns (since we have a man and woman having switched bodies) playing off the recent rise in acceptance of personal sexual identity without turning the idea into an insulting pun. There are several scenes that directly reference these ideas and these small moments serve as positive commentary on modern society where the queer community is becoming more accepted and less of a punchline or stereotype especially in media. If you look for it there is some fun, subtle commentary built into a premise that, on the surface, should seem pretty basic. You can either watch “Freaky” for the bloodshed or, if you choose to find it, there’s also some hidden beauty beneath its seemingly cut-and-dry narrative.
“Freaky” is an excellent horror comedy and another great entry in Christopher Landon and Blumhouse’s growing library of modern mainstream horror achievements. This creative spin on “Freaky Friday” balances tones excellently and benefits from a great and diverse cast while also mixing in some subtle theming relevant to the modern world. It’s at once cliché and inspired at the same time and surprisingly this makes for a pretty fun experience no matter who takes the time to watch it. Whether it’s the fun kills and committed performances from its body-swapped pairs selling a ridiculous twist on a familiar idea or the more insightful examination of gender identity “Freaky” has something for everyone. Most of all though. it’s simply just a fun, gory and engaging horror comedy blend that will have you screaming and/or laughing the whole way through.