Horror movies tend to follow cyclical trends. Torture porn was big after Saw, Asian horror remakes after The Ring, ghost stories after The Conjuring, etc. Director Christopher Landon may have figured out the next big thing – borrowing the plots of famous comedies and adapting them to include scares. His Happy Death Day was Groundhog Day with a masked slasher, and Freaky is a gory variation on Freaky Friday. The approach puts a fun new spin on something familiar. It also seems to offer endless possibilities, at least if future entries are done as smartly as this one.
Millie Kessler (Pokemon Detective Pikachu's Kathryn Newton) is a meek teenage girl who lives with wine-guzzling widow mother Paula (Katie Finneran) and cop sister Charlene (Dana Drori). Her days are spent fighting with her nasty wood shop teacher, Mr. Fletcher (Alan Ruck), silently crushing on peer Booker (Uriah Shelton), and hanging with pals Nyla (Celeste O'Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich). Teens in Millie's small town are being terrorized by a serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn). Sure enough, she ends up becoming one of his victims.
Thanks to a magical relic he stabs her with, Millie doesn't die. Instead, she and the Butcher switch bodies. After some initial confusion about turning into a teenage girl, he decides he kind of likes it because he can do all the killing he wants and blame it on her (since the police are looking for him). She, meanwhile, is baffled inhabiting the body of an adult male. Extra strength proves a nice feature; peeing standing up is a challenge. Millie eventually discovers that she has just 24 hours to obtain the relic or else the swap will become permanent.
The central joke of Freaky is that this timid girl suddenly has the physique of a tall, intimidating male, while the deranged psychopath figures out how to take advantage of his new teen disguise. The movie has a good time coming up with ironic scenarios to put the two characters in, as well as crazy forms of interactions they have with those around them and with each other. Mistaken identity is cleverly utilized several times, as is the idea that Butcher-as-Millie can point to Millie-as-Butcher to get out of sticky situations.
Casting is crucial to getting this premise to work. Freaky's two leads are flat-out perfection. Vince Vaughn is hilarious playing a teen girl struggling to adjust to her new appearance. Rather than doing it as caricature, he plays it straight, which makes the comedic aspect even funnier. Vaughn is matched by Kathryn Newton, who expertly suggests how “Millie” transforms once taken over by a brutal killer. With a perpetual intense stare and a tough-talking manner, the actress captures the inherent humor of the situation, without sacrificing menace.
On a more conventional horror level, Freaky contains several really inventive kills. The movie earns its R rating. There are a couple good jump scares, too. Less expected, yet still welcome, is a little bit of heart. For all the comedy and violent mayhem, Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy take time to ensure we care about the characters. An especially good scene finds Millie-as-Butcher connecting with her mom in a way she hasn't been able to in her natural form.
Energetically paced and stylishly photographed, Freaky is a total scream, in more than one sense of the word.
out of four
Freaky is rated R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.