Within the realm of the budget-conscious Blumhouse Productions, which match high concepts with talent and low costs, filmmaker Christopher Landon has become a major figure for the studio. Freaky is another fun idea to go along with his run on the Happy Death Day films, which combined slasher tropes with the time loop concept. For this film, one simply has to complete the title mash-up to understand the premise – Freaky Friday the 13th. Fortunately, the results are quite entertaining, with a script that manages to bring together some broad comedy, jabs at high school culture, and a good amount of R-rated gore fit for a slasher flick.
Following an opening designed to get a lot of horror energy out of its system by unleashing Vince Vaughn’s Blissfield Butcher onto a few unsuspecting teens who are dispatched in various horrible ways, the film locks in on its main character, Millie (Kathryn Newton). Millie is a bullied high school student dealing with the grief of losing her dad a year ago. Things take a dramatic twist when she is attacked by the Butcher, wielding a magic dagger, causing the two to swap bodies. It creates quite a predicament, but the bodies don’t stop dropping.
Having recently gone through several slasher movies during this past October (fun fact: you can watch them any time of year, but I digress), it’s interesting to take into account just how many 80s slashers already work as silly comedies. This isn’t a new thought, as comedy has generally worked hand in hand with horror films and thriller as a way to break the tension. Heck, many of Hitchcock’s suspense films could double as dark comedies. The trouble with Freaky, however, isn’t in that balance, as I found the tone to be quite consistent.
If anything, while 101 minutes is long enough by slasher standards, I could have taken more of an embrace of the premise. There’s an expected amount of sensitivity in handling Millie’s backstory, as Landon is good at creating pathos, even to the point of keeping the body swap element away from exploiting the situation in an “80s movie made by men” sort of way. I’m not saying the Butcher needed to be handled with the same sort of care, but I do wish there was something more to grasp onto with this serial killer who’s apparently been around long enough for kids to tell ghost stories about him.
With that in mind, as this is a horror-comedy with emphasis on the zany antics of actor/living giant Vince Vaughn playing as though he’s got the mind of a high school girl, there’s a lot of fun to be had. Along with the requisite “convince your best friends of this insane situation,” the film gets mileage out of Vaughn’s very presence being an obstacle. Not being used to having a foot of height added to her body, watching Vaughn knock his head into stuff constantly is always good for a laugh. Meanwhile, Newton plays into the murderous killer that’s taken ahold of her body by giving off icy stairs and finding inventive ways to increase the Butcher’s kill count.
While the Happy Death Day films were winningly anchored by Jessica Rothe’s lead performance as a character dealing with her own insane predicament, and balancing that with broad humor, sharp one-liners, and a good amount of emotion injected into the scripts by Landon, I found Freaky to have an overall more consistent tone. Being able to embrace the R-rating when it came to the horror angle of it all means having more freedom to make certain choices that did well to fit throughout the film. Dividing up lead characters comes at a cost, perhaps, and even with some predictable beats, I was still finding myself more pleased with the antics going on here.
The fun supporting cast certainly played a role in Freaky’s success. Katie Finneran as Millie’s widowed mother, only has a few scenes to work with, but one involves a conversation with her daughter in Vaughn’s body that nailed the tricky balance of emotion and laughs. Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich, as Millie’s best friends, do well doubling as high school movie cliches in a way that felt clearly intentional. As a jerk woodshop teacher, even Alan Ruck makes the most out of a part that has an inevitable end.
Really, considering the range of character types, let alone the diverse actors sharing the screen, there’s a lot to enjoy about how Landon has chosen to take on a high school movie, even if it means inserting a particular genre element in for good measure. That, fortunately, does not take away from the quick-paced fun being delivered throughout Freaky.
Perhaps there’s a version of Freaky that could more clearly reckon with the dilemma these characters face, but I’m not sure if the comedy would be as joyous. For a film being released on a Friday the 13th, the mood of Freaky is clear. This is about having a good time with the high concept, and as a film featuring showcase roles for its stars, the movie gets the job done. There’s an added bonus of Landon knowing enough to keep feelings intact when probing a little under the surface, but as a film going for the quick kill, it’s a fresh slice of fun.