FREAKY is the recent Blumhouse horror comedy conceived under the title “FREAKY FRIDAY THE 13TH,” because yes, it is a slasher movie combined with a body switch comedy. A psychotic serial killer called “the Blissfield Butcher” (Vince Vaughn, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, PSYCHO) steals an ancient magic dagger, not realizing that when he uses it to stab random teen victim Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton, THE MARTIAL ARTS KID) their souls will switch places. Whoops.
The director is Christopher Landon (BURNING PALMS), which makes a whole lot of sense, because he’s the guy who did HAPPY DEATH DAY, a slasher movie combined with GROUNDHOG DAY (and a movie I enjoyed quite a bit). I heard an interview where Landon said he was a little reluctant to be that guy, but he liked the idea by co-writer Michael Kennedy (assistant animation producer, Family Guy) so much he had to go for it anyway.
Like HAPPY DEATH DAY, Landon’s new one benefits from a strong lead performance – in fact, two. No, come to think of it, four lead performances between two actors. But as we first meet Millie in the teenage girl body portrayed by Newton, it has the feel of a solid SCREAM-era teen slasher movie. She has two very supportive best friends named Nyla (Celeste O’Connor, WETLANDS) and Josh (Misha Osherovich, NOS4A2, THE GOLDFINCH), and one thing that’s different than it would’ve been even in the SCREAM days is that Josh is explicitly gay and they’re able to have jokes and plot developments related to it without treating it as anything unusual.
Like Tree in HAPPY DEATH DAY or Sidney in SCREAM or other characters I’m not thinking of, Millie is trying to put her life together after the loss of a parent – her dad died of cancer a year ago. Now her mom Coral (Katie Finneran, Judy in the 1990 NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake) drinks too much and her police officer older sister Charlene (Dana Drori, High Fidelity) is angry and she’s trying to be the peacemaker.
Millie is supposed to be a kid who has been bullied all her life and has trouble fitting in, and we see jock dudes randomly calling her ugly and stuff. As in many teen movies, this really doesn’t track, since she and her friends seem equally or more attractive, cool and confident as the popular kids. I understand that kids/people can be cruel to anyone for any reason, and there’s a class component here (she’s attacked for buying clothes on sale), but I feel like it’s unfair to real life awkward nerds to replace them in movies with cute kids who look straight out of a catalog.
One part that really does work: the lead mean girl is named Ryler (Melissa Collazo, two episodes of Swamp Thing). I don’t think I’ve ever heard that name before, and also I don’t think a better name exists for a character like that.
As is also common in teen movies, the biggest assholes are the guys in letterman jackets, but also there’s one nice one that Millie has a huge crush on. His name is Booker (Uriah Shelton, ENTER THE WARRIORS GATE, season 3 finale of Justified) and we know from his jacket that his last name is Strode, which is too obvious of a reference to make it past the first draft in my opinion but I guess at least it’s not Carpenter or Craven.
A sign that this is a pretty well-made movie is that I was involved enough in the establishing teen movie part that I wasn’t impatient to get to the body switch. Once it happens, it moves pretty fast, barreling through the simple needs of the plot (convince her friends she’s Millie even though she’s inside the body of an adult man, find out what to do to switch back, go do that) while finding various ways to play with a teenage girl in an adult male body and a murdering psycho in a teenage girl body.
While running around trying to hide from cops and locals who saw police sketches, Millie learns how to pee standing up, gets to terrorize a few of her tormenters, etc.; meanwhile the Butcher makes Millie’s body more popular by wearing a leather jacket and putting up with no shit while living among the teenagers he gets off on murdering. I generally don’t like in slasher movies when they have a bunch of piece-of-shit characters so you’ll root for Michael Myers or whoever to kill them, but I think it works here because of that gimmick that an asshole shop teacher (Alan Ruck, SPEED) or some football team gang rapists don’t know what they’re getting into when they try that shit on who they think is their favorite victim Millie.
One major piece of the movie that requires suspension of disbelief is the idea that Millie-in-the-Butcher’s-body would be able to convince her friends that she’s Millie. They’re scared and trying to bash “him” with blunt objects but she swears she’s Millie and rattles off her favorite TV shows and stuff – they quickly believe her and then for the rest of the movie they’re unquestioningly onboard with believing in magic. I suppose it’s a statement on their closeness as friends vs. tensions in her family that she doesn’t do the same for her mom or sister, and instead tries to hide from them.
Vaughn has received well-deserved praise for his performance as Millie-in-the-Butcher’s-body. It’s comedic, obviously, and there’s a bit of that “adult man talking in a girly voice” type of shtick, but overall he seems very invested in taking it seriously, not being too broad. That’s hard to do when so much of it has him running around, moving his body like a scared teenage girl who hates sports.
Newton is also great as the Butcher, lowering her head, narrowing her eyes, moving intently, like a predator. You can see a different person behind those eyes, so it’s genuinely funny to see the Butcher wake up in Millie’s bedroom and wonder what in the hell this place is with a PITCH PERFECT 2 poster on the wall. (Later we learn that he prefers to sleep in an abandoned mill surrounded by dead animals and mangled mannequins.)
One question I had about the logic of the story (which is probly explained and I missed it): what is the Butcher trying to do? Does he want to stay in the teenage girl body? I guess so because he tries to stop her from reversing the curse.
I liked this movie, and there’s no reason to treat the films of Christopher Landon as Highlanders, but if there could be only one I would definitely choose HAPPY DEATH DAY. They both have likable characters and good casts and use their goofy premises in clever and funny ways, but they also both try to ground their stories in themes of grief and acceptance about the loss of a parent and the way this affects the surviving family members, and in that department I think HAPPY DEATH DAY and its goofier sci-fi sequel HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U are much more effective.
FREAKY’s attempt to re-use that formula feels painfully forced. They lay the groundwork with the mom and sister characters, but because of the body switch the only way they could figure to get it out is a ridiculous scene where Millie-in-adult-male body is in a dressing room at the clothing store where mom works, mom thinks she’s a customer, yet starts talking to her through the door about the death of her husband and how it’s affected her daughters? You can feel them repeatedly struggling to make it make sense – oh what am I saying, you’re just trying to buy a shirt, why am I saying this to you, it’s weird but I feel like we have some sort of a connection, unseen person I’m talking to through a door who is trying to get rid of me. I appreciate that they tried to get those emotions in there, but they really needed to figure out a better way to do it.
On a more superficial horror movie level, the killer’s baby mask in HAPPY DEATH DAY is much cooler than this movie’s crude clay hockey mask with the eye holes too close together. Luckily that’s only worn at the beginning. And I will say this in FREAKY’s favor: it has the R-rating and the type of fun, gory kills that I always thought HAPPY DEATH DAY deserved. There are a couple really good ones, for example (SPOILER FOR THE FIRST KILL) he slams a wine bottle in a guy’s mouth and it crushes inside him and explodes glass shards out of his throat. Bravo!
But anyway, if “FREAKY FRIDAY THE 13TH” sounds fun to you I think you will enjoy this.