★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Freaky takes the body swap idea from Freaky Friday, and gives it a slasher film twist. It’s a fun concept, and is off and on entertaining, but the film’s sloppy and predictable plot keep it from reaching the standard for similar Blumhouse fare like Happy Death Day.
Directed by Christopher Landon
Blumhouse hit box office gold by taking a familiar comedy concept, the Groundhog Day causal time loop, and turned it into Happy Death Day. Christopher Landon who directed Happy Death Day is back to twist a similarly mined another comedy classic with a familiar trope, this time utilizing the adult-teen swapperoo of Freaky Friday, but this time exchanging the body of a meek teenage girl, Millie (Kathryn Newton) with the hulking psychopath, the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughan). So far, so good, and the trailer suggests lots of fun and laughs.
And… I think the trailer showed the comic highlights of the movie. The movie’s slasher roots had some fantastic kills, but the brain within the movie never rises above average slasher fare. Millie is a high school student whose father passed away a year ago. Her over-protective mom who drinks her grief away (Kate Finneran) and frustrated deputy cop sister (Dana Drori) smother her. To make things worse, school is no respite as she is bullied relentlessly by the local popular girl clique because she is so… plain. (Not really, but the plot says so, so she must be plain.)
A recent slaughter of a group of Blissfield high students by the Blissfield Butcher (a very fun opening scene) puts the whole suburban community on alert, but the trauma of the incident amounts to little more than a PA announcement. Millie and her besties Nyla (Celeste O’ Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) comprise a nerd-outcast group, and Homecoming is coming soon, and none of them have dates. Millie’s crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton), is a sweet upstanding jock, amongst a bunch of awful misogynistic jocks. Par for the high school stereotype course in almost all respects.
At the homecoming game, Millie’s mother fails to pick her up from the stadium, and Millie waits alone in her mascot costume. Instead of her mom, the Blissfield Butcher arrives and pursues her to the stadium 50-yard line, where he attempts to kill her with a sacrificial dagger he stole from the murder scene earlier in the movie. In a stroke of magical weird fortune, the knife pulls the body swap on the two of them mid-struggle, and Millie’s cop sister arrives to the rescue.
From there the gender swap is in full bloom, and it’s up to Newton and Vaughan to carry the character switch water. Vaughan gleefully dives into the opportunity, channeling a rather generic tween girl persona, but has a blast doing it. It doesn’t seem to be quite in line with the Millie character we see earlier, but it works fine. The Millie in Vaughan’s body provides some fun touching or silly character moments, and Vaughan commits to these moments, and the movie is all the better for it.
Newton’s depiction however is a bit rougher and one-note. She dresses sexier and flowers for the bulk of the movie to channel her darker instincts. Hollywood, please note: taking a pretty actress and putting her in dowdy clothes makes her a pretty character in dowdy clothes, and not plain. It’s a lame trope. Kathryn Newton’s wallflower to siren transformation is not exactly a revelation. There is nothing about the slovenly Blissfield Butcher that would suggest that he would want to dress up for the role. It feels like the production team wanted to make not-Millie/Blissfield Butcher into a dramatically different character, and yet she felt out of character. I think transforming Newton into a slovenly murder-hobo would have been more to the point and would have been much more fun and trope-breaking.
With the acting roles thus defined, it’s up to the script to come up with a way to try and get the bodies switched back, complete with a countdown timer, which is a true MacGuffin. The conjuring spell has limitations… etc… etc… PLOT DEVICE. So, the plot, not so interesting. Funny bits? There certainly are some comedy nuggets buried in this plot, and if you watch the trailer, you’ll see most of the best bits. The trailer IS funny, and gets you the gist of the movie, but sadly there aren’t a ton more.
What the trailer DOES hide, even the red-band trailer, is how gleefully gory the movie is. The Butcher, in both bodies, is a meat carver par excellent. Blumhouse went full gorefest for a couple of scenes, which surprised me. Much of their horror recently has been more suggestive than explicit, but they leave little to the imagination this time. The killings have a bit of an ’80s slasher vibe (no surprise here, as that is clearly the model) as these violent acts have minimal consequence to anything going on in the larger plot environment. Multiple grisly killings on the High School grounds, and yet everyday life in suburbia moves along blissfully ignorant in Blissfield. (Perhaps that’s a clue.) There is a market for that sort of thing, but in an era of thoughtful and consequential horror movies, it feels a little off.
For fans of old-school ’80s style slasher material and the Blumhouse production values, Freaky will satisfy. For this reviewer, however, the expectations were a little higher for the plot construction and logistics. For a movie with this much gore at its core, it played things very safe and familiar.