Freaky is a horror comedy twist on the Freaky Friday formula that succeeds in being very energetic and messy. While the body swap comedy genre is frequently remade there really haven’t been many horror takes on it which gives Freaky its own vibe. What really helps is that the two leads are both fantastic playing each character. The movie stumbles when it crosses earnestness and melodrama which clashes harshly in a film where people are comically chainsaw murdered but that’s not enough to stop Freaky from being a great ride.
Millie (Kathryn Newton) is a high school student who has incredibly bad luck when a serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) attacks her with a mystical knife. Surprisingly, it causes them to swap bodies, with Millie trapped in the body of a known serial killer and Butcher trapped in the body of a put upon high schooler. Millie’s best friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) notice she has been acting strange and are in for a surprise when Butcher arrives at their school claiming to be Millie. With only 24 hours to reverse the curse and Butcher/Millie figuring out that they can do much more havoc under the radar as a teenage girl, Millie/Butcher and her buddies are running out of time as the body count continues to rise.
Freaky opens with the requisite horror movie folk talking about the scary legend of the killer who then appears and bumps them all off; a horror convention but one that is tweaked as the opening is so insanely over the top that it is almost parody. Millie being a nerd who undergoes a makeover to become a total knock out is a creaky high school movie cliché but it works because the makeover was via serial killer. The best part where Freaky subverts the genre is situations where a meek high school girl would be a victim is flipped on its head. When Butcher/Millie is cornered by leering high school jocks, she tears through them with a chainsaw. A bully of a teacher, played with peak jerk perfection by Alan Ruck, gets a particularly gory comeuppance, same with a social media posting bully high school student the killer lures away. Butcher/Millie is often stymied by her own small body when she tries to take people down physically, cursing the fact she can’t break down doors anymore.
Newton is fantastic as both the mopey high school Millie and the Butcher as Millie. She’s hilariously weird, getting laughs from small facial movements where it’s clearly the serial killer about to do something terrible, or when Butcher/Millie plays at being a regular terrified girl to draw attention away from herself. Even when the killer as the teenage girl starts running around, it looks hilariously manic. The subplot about Millie and family dealing with the passing of their father and how it causes an emotional rift is a bit weak as an attempt at genuine pathos with them lamenting losing a loved one but all the kills in the movie is played for laughs. It feels tonally crammed in from a different film.
Vaughn bounces between roles and commits to both version of the character. His crazy killer Butcher is basically a hulking, terrifying monster like Jason from Friday the 13th, a giant of a man who rips through his victims. The contrast between Butcher and Vaughn playing Millie the teenager stuck in the body is amusingly broad. His performance is sort a merger between the Psycho remake dramatic Vince Vaughn and the jokey comedy star Vince Vaughn. He’s actually quite sympathetic as Millie in a few moments, like when she is reflecting upon how much stronger she is in the Butcher’s body which helps her since she has bullied for so much. There are some weird but heartfelt moments when Vaughn as Millie explains their emotions to Millie’s high school crush. Osherovich and O’Connor as Millie’s buddies enliven what could be a bland support roles and O’Connor gets in hilarious moments like when they are being chased by Butcher/Millie and Josh yells “You’re black, I’m gay, we are so dead!” pointing out the conventions of the horror genre.
Co-written and directed by Christopher Landon, the movie is at its best when the tone is cranked up to 11 with excessive messiness. This is an unabashed R-rated horror movie with lots of splatter that is so dopey that it becomes funny and a whole lot of F-Bombs. The dipping into emotional asides is a bit haphazard; sometimes the pathos works like when Millie/Butcher is reflecting on her history and sometimes it just seems like corny teen movie conventions played earnestly. The music by Bear McCreary is a lot of high pitches horror scare sounds which isn’t exactly original but it fits with the tone.
Since Freaky knows a lot of the twists of the genre, it’s fun to see it poke holes in them. What makes the movie click is the two performances at its centre as the leads bounce between extremes. The body swap genre has been done multiple times but rarely with this much insanity. By pushing the body swap comedy into horror extremes, it gives a familiar story a different flair.
Director: Christopher Landon
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton and Celeste O'Connor.