Capturing the same magic as Happy Death Day, Freaky is a somewhat scary, but more so hilarious, take on the body swap genre.
After losing her father, high school girl Millie (Kathryn Newton) has retreated into herself. Quiet and somewhat demure, she focuses on her dream of going away to college in Boston - knowing even as she does that it would destroy her depressed mother and workaholic sister. As homecoming approaches, the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) legend springs up as it does every year. A tale of a killer who targets high school kids, the Butcher seems like a misguided warning against debauchery, but as the students and town come to realise is all too real. Left alone after a football game waiting for her mother, Millie encounters the Butcher, and their cat and mouse chase through the football stands results in her being stabbed by his ancient blade. To both of their confusion, however, Millie doesn’t die - instead, they swap bodies. Millie, now in the Butcher’s body, must find a way to stab him with the same ancient knife before 24 hours elapses unless she wants the body swap to be permanent. In the meantime, she has to make sure that the Blissfield Butcher, now a wolf in sheep’s clothing at the school, doesn’t kill all of her friends.
Directed by Christopher Landon, Freaky takes the body swap genre and turns it on its head, embedding the same teen comedic horror tone that Blumhouse has been pioneering in recent years. For the most part, this is largely a tremendous success. Both of the leads are fantastic in performing effectively dual roles. Kathryn Newton switches wildly between her actual ‘self’ in Millie, and the savage murderer who overtakes her body. Her performance as the murderer is particularly impressive, conveying a distinctly creepy look with her eyes, but also with a fair amount of badassery and the occasional swaying impression of Vince Vaughn’s hulking form’s movement. Similarly, it is fun to see the duality in Vaughn’s character, as he goes from a brooding, creepy and physically massive presence to a somewhat coquettish version of Millie’s personality.
Landon has a lot of fun with the horror overtones of the film, even if the stakes aren’t really there. The signposting of who will and who won’t be killed is right there from the off, and only the really terrible humans are being killed. Yet Landon builds suspense while also playing off horror movie tropes to almost make you laugh at the faux tension being built. He also is incredibly inventive with a lot of the kills, and this adds a dimension to Freaky that probably wasn’t as evident in Happy Death Day. Landon has even more fun with the body swap tropes. In particular, one scene with Millie in Vince Vaughn’s body and her high school crush getting romantic had the audience squealing and squirming in equal measure.
The challenge with Freaky is largely singular. Sure, perhaps this could have been more scary, and perhaps there could have been more twists. But for the most part the only issue here is with Vaughn’s performance. That’s not because he wasn’t great (when isn’t it a joy to see the big man on screen), but rather because it is so similar in concept and tone to Jack Black’s gender and body swapped performance in Jumanji. Had this movie come out before that one, we would probably have a classic on our hands. As it stands, Freaky will forever suffer from comparisons to that performance.
Freaky is a helluva lot of fun, and while it isn’t as scary as it could be, it is certainly funny as hell.