Having produced the immensely successful slasher flick, Happy Death Day, which mixed murder with the groundhog day trope, as well as its well-received sequel Happy Death Day 2U which further explored themes of time-travel in horror, it is safe to say that director Christopher Landon more than knows his way around gore and scares.
So when news broke that he was releasing a new film that crosses two great classics, Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th, fans went a little freaky crazy.
On the surface, Freaky is about a young mousy girl swapping bodies with a serial killer, then racing against time to find said serial killer stuck in her body, to reverse the effects of the curse before it remains permanent. Beyond that, the film does attempt to explore themes of female empowerment and the importance of being comfortable in your own skin, but it’s mired in so many cringey attempts at humour and entertainment that most serious moments sadly get lost, and forgotten as the film trudges on to its finish line.
Freaky starts us right off with four stereotypical teens hanging out in an expensive-looking mansion, sharing stories of the town’s urban legend, the Blissfield Butcher (Vincent Vaughn). Only the Butcher is very much real, and is very much on the hunt for some fresh new kills. One wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that the film was trying to pay homage to vintage ‘80s slasher films while watching through its opening act, with the creepy mask-wearing Butcher being reminiscent of killers Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers.
Not surprisingly, the teens don’t survive for long against the Butcher, with the four of them being murdered in extremely gory ways across the estate. This is also where we are introduced to the magical Aztec knife, the important plot device that is later used by the Butcher to unsuccessfully murder Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) – a Blissfield High School senior who recently lost her dad and is just trying to power through her final year in high school.
Millie’s walk through the school corridor is dogged by both bullying jocks and mean girls who appear, recite some snarky line, and disappear, it does seem like the film is going out of its way to show that Millie really is just like every other normal unassuming girl in high school.
Luckily for Millie, she has her two best friends, out and proud Josh who’s mainly portrayed as the typical sarcastic gay kid (“I love your black wiener!” Josh shouts at a middle-aged black man holding his black dachshund.), and token black friend Nyla who doesn’t really have much character depth beyond being a nice, supportive friend to Millie. The film even seems away of this, with Josh screaming “You’re black, I’m gay. We’re screwed.” as they run from the man they believe to be The Butcher. Nothing we haven’t seen before and honestly with how overdone it is, calling out the horror cliché as it happens, a funny scene it does not make.
Things really only kick off in Freaky following the body swap that happens on, you guessed it, Friday the 13th, the night of the unfateful stabbing. Here’s where Millie swaps her young, petite frame for a hulking six-foot-something middle-aged man, and we get to see actor Vaughn show off his acting chops once again as he tries his best to portray what it’s like actually being a young teenage girl.
Some of it is pretty funny, such as Millie not realising that she’s not incredibly tall, and getting smacked in the face by tree branches, or discovering how convenient it can be to pee standing up. But antiquated female stereotypes sometimes also make an appearance, such as when Vaughn is attempting to run like how a young girl would, with his arms thrown up and swinging about.
That is not to say that there aren’t any touching scenes with Millie, such as the heart-to-heart talk Millie has with her mom through a dressing room door, only for said moment to be dashed once the mom tries to ask Millie (still in the Butcher’s body out), or when Millie is trying to be intimate with her crush in the backseat of the car, with the pair even sharing a kiss, only for the moment to be squashed once again because Millie is still in the body of a middle-aged man. It can be funny the first few times, but more than once and it really detracts from any depth the movie is trying to achieve. That said, it was still nice to see Josh and Nyla having Millie’s back once they realise that it is actually her and not the Blissfield Butcher.
Post-stabbing Newton might not have to do as much of the heavy lifting emotionally for the film as Vaughn does with Millie, but boy does she kill it in whatever scene she’s in – quite literally in fact. One can definitely see Newton having fun as the new and “improved” Millie Kessler, especially in the gory fight scenes, such as one starring Alan Ruck’s mean-spirited, chauvinistic teacher who ends up being done in by the tools in his workshop.
One thing that left us mildly puzzled though, was how well-dressed The Butcher is as Millie, becoming a downright seductress, luring unsuspecting jocks to their death. We’ve seen the Butcher’s lair, and it is a mess of dead animal bodies, and other standard serial killer paraphernalia. So it is a surprise to us that The Butcher knew how to put on not just a nice outfit that accentuates Millie’s figure, but also makeup. We’re sure the movie never intended for this but it’s funny to think that perhaps The Butcher was an aspiring fashion stylist before he went down the serial killer route.
One thing we felt the movie could have also done better in was its ending. Just when we thought the movie was over following a fade-to-black, it cuts to Millie’s family once again, and we get one final showdown between Millie and The Butcher, this time in their respective bodies. Though action-packed and surely meant to convey feminine power with the all-female Kessler family winning against The Butcher, it felt entirely unnecessary and the whole movie should have ended way earlier with the fade-to-black, or with a nice hook for a potential sequel.
Instead, we got an ending that left us with several questions as to The Butcher’s possibly magical constitution, and how he could have possibly survived being shot at by a flurry of bullets and still make it all the way to Millie’s house to try and kill her.
All in all, Freaky is a body-swap horror-comedy that has an incredibly interesting premise, only for its execution to bogged down by a number of cringey scenes and illogical moments. Regardless, it is still worth a watch if you’re looking for a fun, new Halloween movie to watch in 2020, if just for the gory action scenes featuring both Vaughn and Newton.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Friday the 13th meets Freaky Friday in this body-swap horror-comedy that promises lots of laugh with some cringe on the side.
Story - 6/10
Direction - 6/10
Characterisation - 6/10
Geek Satisfaction - 5.5/10