By Lynn Venhaus
As genre mashups go, successfully blending horror and comedy is a tricky task, but “Freaky” turns out to be a real treat. It’s a twisted take on the body swap movie by having a teenage girl switch bodies with a serial killer.
It should come as no surprise to fans of director Christopher Landon, who has hit it before with the time-loop “Happy Death Day” and its sequel, “Happy Death Day 2 U,” two clever and inspired funny thrillers.
This time, he and screenwriter Michael Kennedy smartly mix the teen-adult body swap tropes of “Freaky Friday” with the slasher scares of “Friday the 13th,” and infuse it with homages to the classics.
Seventeen-year-old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) tries to be invisible at Blissfield High but then she is attacked on the football field – Go Beavers! – by the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), the town’s urban legend-serial killer. He used an ancient mystical dagger, “La Doma,” they trade places and have 24 hours to reverse the curse or she lives inside the middle-age maniac forever.
Starting off with two teenage couples partying while one’s parents are away, they set up the urban legend of The Blissfield Butcher, who wreaked havoc Homecoming Night 20 years ago.
You know where it’s going – especially when the dad collects creepy artifacts – but the doomed kids’ demises are particularly gruesome. Be warned, this movie doesn’t cut away from the grisly carnage – and those bloodbaths are responsible for the R rating.
One artifact is a mystical Aztec dagger that The Butcher steals. Little does he know its use will start the harrowing reign of terror at the high school – and of course, the rogue Homecoming Dance.
Cleverly staged with genuine suspense, then expertly edited by Ben Baudhuin, “Freaky” wouldn’t be as effective without this pitch-perfect cast. Their full commitment to appear as terrified in this living hell is matched by the fun they’re having checking off the horror movie boxes.
The story hinges on Vince Vaughn’s hulking shadowy character, not unlike Michael Myers from “Halloween” or Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th.”
Vaughn goes for broke here, gleefully conveying an angsty teenage girl who reveals her crush and must convince Millie’s two besties, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) — who has the bulk of zippy quips – that she is inside the deranged killer. He’s having a blast and demonstrates what a deft comic actor he is.
Swapping with the smaller in stature Kathryn Newton makes the physicality fun to pull off. Newton’s take on the killing machine is harder to achieve, with that “Terminator 2”-like glint in her eye, but the kids at school think she’s transformed herself into an empowered ‘bad girl’(because, of course, she’s wearing a red leather jacket instead of thrift shop frocks).
Only in Hollywood scripts would Newton, as the ‘before’ Millie, be referred to as ordinary and boring. Millie has a lot to deal with – her dad died a year ago, her grief-stricken mom Coral (Katie Finneran) falls asleep by drinking a bottle of chardonnay, she’s bullied by mean girls and the shop teacher (Alan Ruck) — and she’s trying to get Booker (Uriah Shelton) to notice her.
The story’s entertaining aspects help overlook some of the plot’s implausible elements — like where has this psychopath been all these years? And why exactly is she bullied, just for a standard subplot?
The usual horror genre trappings are all here, and that’s part of the fun. Bear McCreary’s score enhances both the humor and the thrills, and the jump scares are executed well.
When “Freaky” is light-hearted, it really is delightful, and when it’s graphic with the murders, I had to look away. Yes, I’m a wuss when it comes to frightening films but Landon’s worth watching – a born entertainer.
But this is a good way to spend a Friday the 13th or a day where you need to escape the realities of 2020. Producer Jason Blumhouse has added another gem in his horror film universe.
“Freaky” is a comedy-horror film directed by Christopher Landon, with screenplay by Michael Kennedy, and starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Alan Ruck, Katie Finneran, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton and Dana Drori. Rated: R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, and language throughout, it’s run-time is 1 hr. 42 min. Lynn’s Grade: B+
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.