Written by: Matt Patti | November 13th, 2020
Freaky (Christopher Landon, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
From Christopher Landon, the director of the 2017 horror-comedy hit Happy Death Day – a film which I quite enjoyed – comes another horror-comedy hybrid, Freaky. Similar to the idea of the Freaky Friday films in which a mother and daughter switch bodies with each other, but otherwise unrelated, 2020’s Freaky takes the concept to a whole other level. In this film, the two people switching bodies are complete strangers: a famed serial killer and a high school girl.
The film begins when the Blissfield Butcher, an infamous serial killer, played by Vince Vaughn (Arkansas), who terrorizes the small town of his namesake, breaks into a house, kills all those inside, and steals a mysterious special knife. We then cut to Millie (Kathryn Newton, Pokémon Detective Pikachu), a high school girl who is a bit of a misfit but still has her small group of close friends. The school’s homecoming dance is coming up, and with it comes the scary legend of the Blissfield Butcher, as he always shows up around that time each year. Millie plays the role of the high school football team’s mascot, and after their homecoming game finds herself alone in the dark, waiting for a ride.
Millie is then approached by the Blissfield Butcher and ultimately stabbed with his mystical knife. The knife, having special powers, transfers Millie’s soul into the body of the Butcher, and the Butcher’s soul into Millie’s body. The two wake up in their different bodies the next morning, and while Millie (in the Butcher’s body) struggles to find anyone who can help her, the Butcher (in Millie’s body) uses his new form to easily seduce and slaughter the teens at Blissfield high. What’s worse, Millie soon finds that if she doesn’t find a way to get back into her old body within 24 hours, the change will be permanent and she’ll be stuck in the Butcher’s body forever.
There’s a lot to like in this film; the body-switch concept is very intriguing to see play out. But the filmmakers do more with the idea than one might expect. It is obviously quite humorous when friends and family of Millie interact with her Butcher-inhabited body, and equally funny when Millie, inside of the Butcher’s body, attempts to approach her friends. It is very awkward to see them interact with people inside their new bodies, but in a good way.
Beyond all this, however, the concept allows the filmmakers to explore gender norms in a new way by having a terrifying killer inside a young girl’s body and a clumsy, squeamish teenager inside an old, stronger man’s body. There are many times throughout the film where the Butcher, inside Millie’s body, gets away with things because he is using the body of a young girl, and where an innocent Millie, in the Butcher’s body, is walking down the street and people are instantly frightened. The film also uses the body-switch to garner emotional impact, as some genuine, deep conversations take place between Millie, in the Butcher’s body, and people she knows that could not take place if they knew it was Millie. The filmmakers take the film’s main selling point and use it to the highest degree.
The performances of both Vaughn and Newton are remarkable, especially when playing the inverse of their original character. Newton plays a fine dorky, misfit outcast in Millie but really shines in her demeanor as a demented, heartless killer. Vaughn’s Butcher is an intimidating force, but he really shines the most as a teenage girl stuck in a grown man’s body, even matching the way that many teenage girls would carry themselves, run and talk. The film is immensely entertaining and satisfying, having both suspenseful scenes and creative, gory kills while also containing moments of hilarity.
The only issues I have with the film revolve around a few nitpicks and one singular aspect that does not work at all for me. The design of the killer and his mask is a bit bland and resembles a certain Friday the 13th killer a tad too much, some of the kills are somewhat over the top and unbelievable (but I think the film is going for that vibe), and there are a few moments of awkward dialogue. But the biggest issue I have with Freaky is the exposition of the ancient history of the Butcher’s mystical knife. There is one scene in the film where a Spanish teacher tells the tale of the weapon, its powers and an old curse and warns Millie, in the Butcher’s Body, of the dangers of staying in his body. This information is glossed over far too quickly in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exposition-dump scene and is probably not even necessary. The filmmakers could explain things a little better or leave this scene out entirely.
Overall, though, Freaky is a refreshing, fun, suspenseful and unique horror-comedy. The filmmakers milk everything they can out of the film’s concept and it all mostly works. It is not a perfect film and one can nitpick some of the negatives, including an unnecessary, slightly out-of-place ending sequence, but for the most part the film does its job. It is one of the better horror-comedy films I’ve seen, in the same vein as Landon’s Happy Death Day. Both films do what so many horror-comedies fail to do: they deliver on both horror and comedy aspects, containing genuine intensity and suspense and also hilarious sequences and funny moments. With its well-executed premise, great performances from its leads, creative horror scenes, humorous encounters and a touch of emotional weight, Freaky exceeds expectations. I can’t wait to see what Landon does next.