Body-swap horror comedy Freaky is the perfect distraction from the real-life horror show known as 2020. The film is clever, funny, gross, all the things you could want in a piece of entertainment: it’s also a tad disposable and obvious.
Co-written and directed by Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day), Freaky stars Kathryn Newton (Supernatural) as Millie, a driven high school student considered an outsider by everyone but her close group of friends. One night after a football game, Millie has the unfortunate luck to come face to face with the Blissfield Butcher, played by Vince Vaughn. The Butcher is a local serial killer most people don’t believe exists, but exist he does, and when he tries to kill Millie with a mysterious new knife, the two swap bodies. The Butcher is now in the body of Millie, and Millie is now in the body of the Butcher.
Freaky gets most of its mileage from the simple truth that it’s funny to see Vaughn act like a teenage girl and chilling to see Newton act like a psychotic killer. To that end, there is a deluge of scenes where people run away from Millie (as Vaughn) thinking she’s the Butcher, and people dying because they think the Butcher (as Newton) is Millie. Very few things in the film get deeper than that. Jokes, kills, jokes, kills, and Millie trying to figure out how the switch happened to reverse it. That’s basically it.
A few moments attempt to go a little deeper, such as Millie’s relationship with her mum Coral (Katie Finneran) and her crush on a fellow student named Booker (Uriah Shelton). But even those interactions don’t do much except delay the inevitable showdown and serve to create awkward situations for Vaughn. The scenes also work to align the audience with Millie, but that’s not difficult. She’s not the killer.
Thankfully, the fact that most of Freaky is obvious and a little repetitive isn’t a huge detriment because of the performances of the stars. Both Newton and Vaughn beautifully and gleefully buy into the swap. Vaughn’s entire body language changes for most of the film; he’s loose, fluid, shy, and, somehow, almost cute. Once he’s playing Millie, there’s no doubt there’s a teenage girl in there. (If anything, Vaughn’s Millie is more of a stereotypical teen than when Newton plays her.) On the flip side, Newton’s sweet, caring Millie instantly gets erased when she’s the Butcher. She’s stoic. She doesn’t blink. She’s terminator-esque. Both performances give the whole film a strong driving force, especially when they get face to face.
It helps too that it’s an R-rated movie, so the kills and gore are never held back. In particular, the film’s opening — where Vaughn is actually the Butcher — features several gruesome, jaw-dropping kills I’d never seen before in the slasher genre. Immediately, that innovation sucks the audience into the film and Landon rarely lets up. The Butcher is an evil villain, but we love to watch him, whether he’s a grown man or a teenage girl.
The great kills, constant humour, and clever blending of genres make Freaky well worth a watch. The only real downside to the movie is that it’s so familiar, but considering it’s mashing up two ideas we’re already very used to seeing, that’s expected. All in all, if the worst you can say about a movie is splitting hairs over levels of enjoyment, that’s still enjoyment.
Freaky opens November 12.