2020, R, 101 min. Directed by Christopher Landon. Starring Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, Misha Osherovich, Celeste O’Connor, Katie Finneran, Mitchell Hoog, Alan Ruck, Uriah Shelton.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Nov. 13, 2020
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to make a comedy-horror version of body-swap family classic Freaky Friday and then call it Freaky. The only possible way to excuse such outrageous behavior is to pull off one of the year’s most bloody and hilarious flicks. Fortunately for Blumhouse, they asked Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U writer/director Christopher Landon to perform this gory switcheroo in this grisly, giggly riff on the story of the wrong people in the wrong bodies.
This time around it’s not mother and daughter, but high school mascot and serial killer. Millie (Newton from Blockers and the Landon-scripted Paranormal Activity 4) is the awkward kid at school, falling behind in woodshop, and still dealing with the death of her father. That’s of little concern to the Blissfield Butcher, a semi-mythical bogeyman who goes on a killing spree every year, or 20 years, or just that one time, depending on which urban myth you believe. Now, due to an accident with a supernatural doohickey McGuffin sacrificial knife, the Blissfield Butcher is hiding behind Millie’s eyes and off on a new kill quest, while Millie suddenly looks like a lumbering, muscly hobo who has to duck to get through low doors.
Don’t expect the same kind of super-nuanced character study of melding personalities recently squirted into flesh that we got with Possessor Uncut: This is big, broad, gruesome, scathing fun. Like the Happy Death Day films, Freaky revels in Landon’s grasp of scathing and often wildly inappropriate one-liners and banter, much of it delivered by O’Connor and Osherovich as Millie’s friends who, fortunately, believe that their awkward pal is trapped inside this hulking frame. Vaughn is screamingly funny as Millie, who turns this transfer into a time for some serious self-examination. Meanwhile, Newton adopts a perfect, glossy-eyed scowl as the newly housed Butcher, increasingly frustrated by what this skinny teen body won’t do and adapting the kill style to what it can manage.
(An aside on Vaughn: Landon taps into that strange fragility that has always lurked in his performance, that slight stoop that’s often ignored in his bigger, bombastic performances. Of all the big men that could have been cast far, far against type, Vaughn makes a very certain kind of sense.)
But, ah, the kills. It makes sense that Landon co-wrote with longtime Family Guy/American Dad staffer Michael Kennedy, because Freaky understands that Wile E. Coyote would be a great serial killer if he’d only had one insane scheme that worked. Cartoons and slashers are both about the pratfall, which is about creativity and timing. Starting with an excellent home invasion massacre by the masked Butcher (at this point still Vaughn, who has always made a great heavy) right through some ingenious slayings and one of the best bifurcations on screen since Kimberly Caldwell had to split and leave in Wrong Turn 2: Dead End. If Landon decides to go full-bore gore, just hand him the Friday the 13th franchise.
But right now, no one is doing comedy-horror better. As with the Happy Death Day films, Freaky hilariously modernizes the high school bloodbath for laughs.