I can’t help but wonder what I might have thought of Freaky in any year other than 2020. In this extraordinary year of deserted movie calendars and theatrical strife however, Freaky is ideally positioned to thrive in one of the worst box office climates in history. Serving as the latest collaboration between Universal and Blumhouse Productions, with the latter chugging along as busy as ever this year, pandemic be damned, Freaky puts a lighter spin on the horror genre, delivering a concept so ridiculous, and yet so ingenious, that it feels like precious salve on the open wound of the bleeding movie industry. In an ordinary year, Freaky might have slipped through the cracks. When it’s practically all we’ve got in actual movie theatres right now though, it can more easily attain well-deserved attention from starved moviegoers, assuming they’re both able and willing to go to movie theatres at this point anyway.
That being said, even in an ordinary alternate-universe 2020, where Freaky would have originally been pitted against former juggernaut Fall 2020 blockbusters like Marvel Studios’ Eternals (yikes!), it still would have likely found a devout cult audience. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so elated at its ludicrous, yet lovable final product without the COVID-19 pandemic playing havoc on the movie industry right now, but 2020 is what it is. Even taking that into consideration however, I have no reservations about singing the praises of Freaky, which I was privileged enough to experience in a private theatrical screening. If you’re among the many moviegoers without the ability to see movies in theatres right now though, rest easy, because Freaky will be headed to premium VOD platforms in early December, giving people a chance to experience this tantalizing blend of squeamish teen horror and biting dark comedy from within the comfort of their own homes.
As thankful as I am that this option will soon exist though, I nonetheless have to admit that Freaky was a lot of fun to experience on the big screen. It’s deceptively clever, lovably violent, and succeeds as both a spoof of teen slashers as well as an awkward teen comedy on its own merits. It also serves as an obvious spiritual successor to Blumhouse’s two surprise hit Happy Death Day movies, to the point where Freaky’s writer-director, Christopher Landon, who also brought us the Happy Death Day duology, has flirted with the idea of Freaky being placed in the Happy Death Day universe for a potential sequel and crossover. Regardless of whether or not that ultimately happens though, Landon has indeed proven that Happy Death Day and its surprisingly good follow-up are no fluke, with Freaky officially cementing him as a true master of horror comedies!
Freaky, in case its title wasn’t apparent, is a slasher-themed riff on classic family comedy (and its several remakes), Freaky Friday. The main hook is thus logically a body swap between two unlikely people, who then aspire to reverse the change, or at least one of them does. The difference this time however is that the victims of this unlikely circumstance are a teenage girl and a middle-aged serial killer. If that sounds absurd to you, trust me, it is! It’s through that cheeky, outlandish spin on an age-old premise that Freaky quickly becomes a laugh riot though, even while it doesn’t hold back with its gory deaths and surprisingly impressive violence.
While it’s gleefully shredding the conventions of body-swap comedies, Freaky also aims to be a satire of the increasingly dated conventions of slasher movies too. In that spirit, it feels very similar to horror-comedy classic, Scream from the 90’s, which, ironically enough, is about to get its own sequel/reboot combo in early 2022. Scream’s legacy is tough to top, but Freaky astonishingly manages to excel with its unique advantage of being set within the smartphone-powered, internet-obsessed modern age, where teenagers in particular have apparently become so detached from reality that they can’t tell the difference between a teenager, and an obvious serial killer in a teenager’s body.
That’s one of the key cruxes behind the rather sharp character comedy in Freaky; Vince Vaughn’s gigantic, super-strong serial killer, who isn’t even identified, and is simply known by his media moniker, “The Blissfield Butcher”, makes no effort whatsoever to disguise his personality throughout most of the movie. It should be incredibly obvious to everyone that Kathryn Newton’s helpless, reserved ‘good girl’ lead, Millie Kessler is not herself. Despite that however, no one ever seems to put together the blisteringly obvious, which is incredibly funny on its own! Sure, it’s often equally funny to see Vaughn ham it up as a teenage girl trapped in a gross psychopath’s body, but Newton especially crushes her central role in Freaky, channeling an internal Blissfield Butcher that actually manages to be both scary and funny, to the extent that Vince Vaughn himself probably couldn’t have pulled it off with quite so deft a balance!
Of course, every personality in Freaky borders on being a caricature to begin with, from Alan Ruck’s wood shop teacher that despises Millie for some illogical reason that we never learn, to Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich as Millie’s over-the-top buddies, the stereotypical egghead and gay BFF, respectively. They’re all presented in service to the running gag that no one ever questions ‘Millie’s’ behaviour, particularly when the Blissfield Butcher exploits her form to go from sinister opportunist to shrieking cry-bully, without missing a beat. It’s twisted to the point of succeeding as both a brutal satire of vapid, social media-addicted teenagers and the creaky old rules of slasher movies at the same time.
Yet somehow, despite the fact that it’s very tenuously tethered to recognizable reality, Freaky still manages to find a heart buried within its pointed social commentary. Millie herself, as Newton and Vaughn alike, is easily likable, and her fractured family grieving through the loss of their patriarch comes from a relatable place. The Kessler family in particular echoes Scream in fact, with Millie’s sister, Charlene filling the Dewey role as the well-meaning, but unhelpful local cop, and Millie’s mother, Paula filling the role of the absentee parent, only this time disappearing into a bottle, rather than some unknown business trip. With pretty much everyone else, along with their online/text feeds, filling the role of nosy social vulture, Gale Weathers in this case, Freaky is thus set to promote some simple, but effective family values amid a whole lot of weird, over-the-top slasher satire, both of which is far better than it has any right to be.
Freaky isn’t aiming for much in the way of surprise or genuine intrigue, but it definitely succeeds in the realm of being so shocking and comically uncomfortable that you can’t help but laugh with it. The progression of this movie is frequently on-point, beginning with a more straightforward teen slasher romp that eventually exploits its body swap hook to hilarious effect. From here, Freaky often places humour above horror, but that’s only because it saves its surprisingly potent horror moments for a select handful of ‘money shots’. These provide short bursts of violent retribution against characters that Millie wishes she could stand up to, and that another Millie successfully does stand up to, in the worst possible way!
True to form for slashers, practically no one dies that doesn’t deserve it on some level, but again, that’s part of the fun here. There’s a bit of a power fantasy at play in Freaky to be sure, even if it’s still somewhat presented in service of laughs. Just as Happy Death Day did before it, Freaky still exacts violent justice in its own twisted way, but whereas Happy Death Day focused its character challenges inward through a time loop angle, Freaky focuses more outward with its body swap hook. As a result, we go from virtually no permanent consequences in the Happy Death Day movies to the most regrettable, awful and yet strangely overlooked consequences imaginable in Freaky. These unfortunate turns are often glossed over by a predictably tight 24-hour time limit to undo Millie’s body swap though, after she ends up on the receiving end of a stolen magical dagger that the Blissfield Butcher decides to nick from some rich guy. Much like Happy Death Day before it, Freaky doesn’t waste much time fussing over narrative details that it really shouldn’t bother with.
If there is one knock to be leveled against this otherwise masterful horror-comedy however, it’s the fact that its pacing isn’t quite flawless. Freaky’s second act has a few overdone jokes and slower stretches, especially when it spends the most time removing the fake Millie from her ideal high school environment. The otherwise excellent balancing act between comical scares and witty laughs isn’t consistently achieved at this point, which sometimes gets lost in just plain tired teen comedy tropes. Outside of that small gripe though, Freaky’s storytelling is a sheer delight overall, with even its more terrifying opening moments beautifully setting the stage for a movie that reinvents another exhausted comedy concept, with a truly killer new edge!
Christopher Landon brings his winking, self-aware love of the lighter side of horror back to the writers’ table and the director’s chair of Freaky, another movie that seems to cement a weird, but genuinely effective creative niche for Landon as an artist; Taking overdone comedy concepts, and blending them with equally tired horror conventions in order to make both subgenres feel fresh and funny again. Two negatives making a positive, as it were. Just as the Happy Death Day movies aimed to revitalize the time loop-based formula of Groundhog Day, a formula that’s been run into the ground by a legion of inferior imitators in the years and decades since, Freaky aspires to do the same with the body-swapping comedy formula pioneered by the original Freaky Friday, a formula that’s also been run into the ground by a legion of inferior imitators in the years and decades since.
Freaky’s direction often thrives for the same reason that the Happy Death Day movies’ direction did, namely being proudly aware of its own ridiculousness, and often leaning into it, without straining its foundational joke. Better still is that Freaky actually netted itself a proper R-rating as well, whereas the Happy Death Day movies had to make do with PG-13 ratings. Because Freaky is able to sport an R-rating, it’s able to make its prized moments of murder more caustically brutal, and its social commentary more striking in its boldness about the unfiltered adolescent experience. This is all accomplished without descending into true perversion or lazy jokes to boot, with Freaky instead aiming for unexpected depths of social farce, even when its plot progression is never truly in question. Put simply, Freaky’s direction is consistently fresh and fun, even during its handful of slower scenes, and you can tell that everyone is having a great time making it, further enhancing its raw comedic energy at every turn!
Freaky is another surprisingly ingenious horror-comedy from the combined likes of writer-director, Christopher Landon and Blumhouse Productions. It’s so good in fact that it may even surpass the similarly great Happy Death Day duology! Just as the Happy Death Day movies can make you laugh and squirm at a time loop premise again, Freaky successfully does the same with the arguably more tired body-swapping premise. This entire movie is loaded with standout performances, particularly from Newton and Vaughn, along with surprisingly witty writing and direction, leading to a biting blend between laughs and scares that’s far more appealing than its ludicrous premise would initially suggest.
Freaky also happens to be the perfect movie for 2020, entirely by accident! It’s a movie that barely managed to escape being produced during pandemic conditions, under a microscopic budget that’s easy to turn a profit from, even with closed/empty theatres in many parts of the world, plus it injects new life into a blend of subgenres that both seemed to be devoid of novelty at this point. Silly as it is, Freaky also succeeds at being a weirdly wholesome, feel-good movie to boot, even considering some of its rather harshly violent slasher sequences! It’s a triumphant story about empowering oneself, but not at the expense of remembering the contributions of your loved ones, and not needing to satisfy the opinion of a collective social order to do it. This is is the kind of movie we need after this depressing, isolating year, which is why it’s a great thing that Universal has authorized an early home release of Freaky next month.
Most exciting of all however is writer-director, Christopher Landon cementing himself as a master of reinventing supposedly tired, well-worn movie concepts that are virtually incapable of succeeding on their own by this point. Thanks to Landon, slasher movies feel genuinely fun again, not to mention hilarious with their added, quirky hooks under his direction. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what weird, overdone comedy concept Landon injects into a freshly-rejuvenated slasher romp next!
- Vaughn and Newton deliver excellent lead performances
- Perfectly blends teen comedy and slasher tropes
- Genuinely makes a body swap premise work
- The second act can drag a little