‘Freaky’ is an Exhilarating Ride in an Unlucky Year
She’s a shy, awkward high school student who is frequently bullied. He’s a local serial killer who has an affinity for stabbing. What happens when the two switch bodies for 24 hours?
Co-written and directed by Happy Death Day’s Christopher Landon, Freaky stars Kathryn Newton as Millie and Vince Vaughn as the Butcher. However, for much of the film, Newtown plays the Butcher and Vaughn plays Millie. The result is a hilarious horror/comedy that does not back down from the gruesome, bloody deaths associated with the genre to which it so lovingly pays homage.
With his Happy Death Day films, Landon established himself as a filmmaker who understands formula and how to manipulate it. Adhering to formula creates an expectation in the audience as to what is supposed to happen next, which leaves open the opportunity to subvert those expectations. Landon also showed he can blend genres — specifically horror and comedy — to create something unique that satisfies both categories.
Freaky follows a similar line. The body-swapping formula has been done to death (pun intended), but Landon makes it fresh and exhilarating with his taste for genre-blending. It pushes both genres to the brink, showcasing clever and well-structured comedy, as well as disturbing and sadistically-rewarding horror.
The two main performances from Newton and Vaughn are what make the movie; it’s through them that we buy into this larger-than-life premise. Newton contrasts a reserved Millie in the first act to the stoic killer behind her eyes who reinvents her social status. While the role doesn’t necessarily call for the same level of range that Vaughn’s does, Newton certainly delivers as Blissfield Valley High’s femme fatale.
What truly elevates the film is Vince Vaughn’s performance. I don’t know if I’ve seen him funnier in a movie than he is in Freaky. From the way he carries himself to the inflections of his voice, Vaughn perfectly conveys that he is actually a teenage girl in his 6'4", 50 year old body. He does this without it ever coming across as too ridiculous or absurd. He convinces us of the reality of the situation through the nuance of his performance while simultaneously making us laugh with the extremes of his character. It’s a delicate line that he walks effortlessly.
A notable difference between the Happy Death Day films and Freaky is the latter’s R-rating. From the opening scene, Freaky shows that it won’t hold back when it comes to the brutal violence. Landon finds some rather creative ways to kill off characters, which is equally impressive and disgusting. With this, Freaky highlights some of its influences (chiefly Halloween) while also trying to do something different and unique. While the style and tone may be similar to some of Freaky’s slasher forefathers, it carves out its own place with Landon’s eye for innovative butchery.
Overall, Freaky is a fun throwback to classic 80’s slasher films while simultaneously walking its own path. It plays into established formula and clichés as an equal means for homage and subversion. It excels on both ends of its horror/comedy DNA, containing brilliantly crafted humor and cleverly conceived carnage. While Kathryn Newton grounds the film with her more realistic portrayal, Vince Vaughn is free to comedically run amok and push the limits of the schtick. Vaughn, however, knows how to balance his performance so that it doesn’t stray too far out into the deep end.
For such an unfortunate year for movies, Freaky stands out as a gem. With many viewers avoiding movie theaters (and justifiably so), this may be a film that slips under the radar. While it is in limited theaters now, Freaky will debut on VOD at the end of the month. I strongly encourage people to check out this movie. We all need a fun escape from the real horror of the world, and Freaky provides just that.