High school student Millie (Kathryn Newton, Big Little Lies) is having a really bad day. Not only is she tormented by the mean girls in class and having major issues at home, but she also gets knifed by the notorious Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn, Wedding Crashers). The killer is trying out a new weapon: a mystical ceremonial dagger that is razor-sharp but has the unintended consequence of making the stabber and the stabbee swap souls. Now the serial slayer is in her taut teen bod, and she’s trapped in his hulking 6’5 frame. Think: Disney’s Freaky Friday meets the classic horror flick Friday the 13th and you’ve nailed it.
Sounds like a pretty preposterous premise, but it totally works! It’s hard to meld genuinely clever comedy with white-knuckle horror. I can think of a few features that have straddled that fence well: the original Fright Night, Jennifer’s Body, and most recently, Happy Death Day. Happy Death Day just happens to be from Freaky’s filmmaker, Christopher Landon, so it makes sense that he’s struck gory, giggly gold again. Landon co-wrote the script with Michael Kennedy (Bordertown) and together they have created the feel-good thriller of the season.
Every thriller worth its salt has a ticking time clock, and in this case, Millie has 24-hours to reverse the curse or be forever stuck inside an aging criminal’s body. She manages to convince her two BFFs—Josh (Misha Osherovich, The Goldfinch) and Nyla (Celeste O’Connor, Selah and the Spades)—to risk their lives to help her. Meanwhile, the Butcher is loving his new wolf in sheep’s clothing persona and he’s murdering half the student body while also managing to keep one step ahead of Millie and her posse. Eventually, of course, all the worlds collide.
While the filmmaking, script, cinematography, and music all come together fabulously, these components wouldn’t be half as satisfying without the right cast. While I am not a huge fan of Vaughn, I have to admit his chops are in full effect as he flawlessly conveys the mannerisms and syntax of a typical teen. Newton is no less impressive as she projects the seething villain through her baby blues with bingo-believability.
Those in Millie’s orbit—her family and friends, are equally well-drawn. Josh and Nyla are true ride-or-dies, but not above showing some tough love. Her mom (Katie Finneran, Bloodline) hits the bottle a little too hard after being widowed the year before, and her sister (Dana Drori, Straight Up) has buried herself in her career as a cop (yes, that connection comes in handy). Then there’s Millie’s would-be boyfriend, Booker (Uriah Shelton, 13 Reasons Why), who truly cares about more than just her all-American blonde looks. (Speaking of which, that was one small sticking point for me: Newton is far too pretty and her character is way too witty to be wholly credible as an unpopular, bullied student.)
Freaky has it all: it’s a fast-paced, high-concept comedy boasting brutal R-rated kills and it’s got heart, too (some of them disembodied and dripping with blood).