Blumhouse is the leading production company right now in the genre of horror. And though some of them may fall into the hole of generic obscurity, they’ve had a number of hits in recent years, including David Gordon Green’s Halloween, which significantly propelled the studio’s popularity back in 2018. When they hit the target, they really hit it, and Freaky definitely falls into that category of quality.
Helmed by Christopher Landon, Freaky is another attempt to take a classic comedy pushed by a bizarre concept and give it a horrific twist. Happy Death Day (also directed by Landon) was a twist on Groundhog Day, whereas Freaky is a play on Freaky Friday. Replace Jamie Lee Curtis with a middle-aged serial killer played by Vince Vaughn, and you’ve got something that’s able to reach high points in both horror and hilarity.
Under the guise of a slasher comedy, Freaky tells the coming of age story of Millie Kessler, a tormented and reserved high school student who unwittingly finds that she’s switched bodies with the Blissfield Butcher, an aging serial killer who attacked Millie only the night before. This creates an obviously unfortunate predicament, because the killer is now totally unsuspecting, and everyone and their mother is looking for the innocent girl in the most infamous body in town.
To get this out of the way, it’s hard to not compare this film to Happy Death Day considering Christopher Landon’s involvement in both, but any comparison only further solidifies his creative range. Both films are very much slasher comedies that are doing twists on non-horror classics, but that’s really as far as they go. Both films deal with time, but in very different ways. While Jessica Rothe’s Tree is trapped in a time loop with a high number of lives, Kathryn Newton’s (but mainly Vince Vaughn’s) Millie is in a race against time to make sure that the body switch pushing the plot doesn’t become permanent. There is also much more emphasis here on the slasher aspect by focusing more on the actual killing rather than piggybacking off the fantastical premise.
The opening of the film with the Blissfield Butcher emulates Friday the 13th in many respects; mainly in the fact that there’s a big guy in a hockey mask picking off teenagers one by one. This scene also features what is one of, if not the most creative kill in a slasher. However it switches gears moments later in a seamless transition to Millie and her family life. It almost feels like a completely different movie than what was shown in the first 15 minutes. Suddenly, a bloody slasher flick becomes a heartfelt coming of age film. One could conceivably see this creating a tonal problem by bouncing back and forth between these two things, but once the worlds of our protagonist and antagonist collide, they mesh together very well. The comedy coexists with the eerie tension that surrounds a significant chunk of the film.
The acting all around is solid, especially with newcomer Misha Osherovich, who actually brings a lot of fun to the table as someone who seems like a cliched trope character at first glance. Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn go above and beyond in portraying the two characters that they share. Vaughn (in the body of the Butcher) departs from his twisted performance as Norman Bates in the Psycho remake in favour of something more sinister like Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers, and later on more sadistic like Freddy Krueger. And even though he nails that presence (especially as a comedian), he’s still able to stretch his comedic chops as Millie, all the while delivering a gritty performance that is more akin to his dramatic work. Though it’s not as prominent in the film as his comedic timing, Vaughn has as much of a hand in giving a presence to the Blissfield Butcher as Kathryn Newton.
Newton is in a similar boat, where she’s able to distinguish herself between her regular shy teen character and the sadistic serial killer that steals her body. This performance is somewhat adjacent to her stint as a monster hunter on Supernatural, and definitely surpasses the latter. Vaughn and Newton are able to bounce off one another so well that you are easily able to tell who’s in whose body when they’re on screen. They’re both having an incredibly fun time with the premise, and the commitment to that is reflected in their amazing performances.
The body swapping aspect of the film isn’t just a gimmick, and like the way it complements the performances, it really proves to be a practical and interesting cornerstone to the main story. After Millie and the Butcher switch places, it’s not just a matter of comedic or sinister situations. The characters grow beyond living with their situation and become drastically changed by it by the end of the film since it’s a double-edged sword for them both. Both characters need to play to different strength than what they usually would. The Butcher in particular must become a more slick and manipulative killer akin to Ghostface rather than a resourceful brute like Jason, which makes him very effective as an antagonist.
Freaky is much more grounded than Happy Death Day, and is very much propelled by its stars while still being one of the more conceptually creative slashers of the new millennium. It takes several influences from classic franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween, while still retaining its own originality with how it toys with the Freaky Friday twist. It’s very seldom that the jokes fall stale, and the kills are creatively gruesome. It really works that its original title was Freaky Friday the 13th.
Much like what Wes Craven did with Scream, Christopher Landon provides stylish direction of a smart script that regularly challenges slasher tropes, and additionally critiques the misogynistic traits that have been deep rooted in the genre since the 80s. Vince Vaughn makes terrific use of the range he’s proved to have over his career, and Kathryn Newton proves to be a scream queen very unique to the genre. And, though it’s not trying to be revolutionary, it does what it means to do really freaking well, and it means to entertain. It’s an a very fun jumping on point for a new audience, but longtime slasher fans will appreciate this multi-genre mashup that loves the movies that inspired it as much as they do.