Vince Vaughn Slashes Expectations in Blumhouse’s Body-Swap Horror-Comedy ‘Freaky’
Blumhouse’s slasher comedy “Freaky” may be a more important and timely film than director Christopher Landon imagined. Yes, it is silly and high-school-angst soapy, and of course it is limited by the scope of its subgenre, but it flips the trope of consciousness conversion with an interesting shift in conscience. There is empowerment to be found beneath the sociopathic shell of slasher villains. This will be the first body-switch film to be released while the nation undergoes its own horrifying body politic swap gone wrong. “Freaky” comes out on the first Friday the 13th after a national election which threatens to create a new twist on another horror-comedy trope: a thing that wouldn’t leave. It offers a spin on monsters who just won’t die.
The title comes from “Freaky Friday,” the original 1976 film which starred Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster and the 2003 remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. “Freaky” adds the gender bending aspect of the 2002 comedy “The Hot Chick,” with a horror twist. While it is set in contemporary times, Blissfield High School comes straight out of an ’80s John Hughes film. “Freaky” basically puts a slumming “Breakfast Club” alternative in the body of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. The Blissfield Butcher is a big guy.
Vince Vaughn delivers on the role he was born to play, a teenage girl. Seeing him in the part will make you wonder why it took him so long to find himself. Perhaps he felt he had to mature into it. Viewers normally don’t root for the monster in horror movies, but might find themselves cheering along with him as he does the Beaver Mascot dance. At least we get to mourn his Butcher incarnation over and over. Vaughn is obviously having fun channeling his inner Captain Kirk. “Freaked” is loaded with visual and thematic nods to horror classics. Vaughn’s entire performance appears to be a tribute to William Shatner’s role as Janice Lester in the “Turnabout Intruder,” the last episode of the original “Star Trek.”
Vaughn doesn’t deliver a caricature, and doesn’t get campy or hammy. Some actors give emotional clues to their characters through the subtle energy of their eyes. Others can convey a range of inner thoughts through quivering, grinning or angrily tightening lips. For his part as Millie, Vaughn acts through his nails. The role really is a tour de farce for his physical comedy, especially the very first cheer he has to perform to get Millie’s best friends to believe he is who she was. Vaughn also gets a lot of mileage out of discovering his power, both in the I-don’t-know-my-own-strength aspect and as a liberating force. There’s an almost-make-out scene with Millie’s crush Booker (Uriah Shelton), where Vaughn pulls back, and tenderly lets the boy down with a promise that maybe they can try again “when my hand isn’t the size of your whole face.”
Kathryn Newton gives her Butcher a menacing energy, and a red leather makeover. She is sinister, but retains the serial killer’s more amusing characteristics, along with his inscrutable pauses and killer stare. She captures the heaviness of the former physicality, and the belligerence which comes with the entitlement of raw muscle and bulk. In her other role as Millie, she is dealing with the recent death of her father, a lonely and fragile mother (Katie Finneran), who drinks herself to sleep, and a big sister Charlene (Dana Drori) on her way to becoming a cliché of local law enforcement.
Millie’s besties are the teenage outcasts Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’Connor). They represent the most statistically endangered of the slasher film citizenry. Nyla is Black, Josh is gay, and they’re not given much more to do than they would have done as the character types which traditionally die early in slasher movies. At least they know it.
Landon and co-screenwriter Michael Kennedy don’t give us much backstory about the Blissfield Butcher. He is a loner and some say he’s only an urban legend. We know he’s been throwing annual killing sprees since the 90s, but we don’t know his motivations, or why, with a track record like that, the cops haven’t been able to nab him. We also don’t get enough information on the Dola, the ancient Aztec ritual dagger which puts the Butcher into Millie’s body, with a 24-hour window before its curse becomes permanent.
Like most horror films of any subgenre, some things don’t make sense. What does a high school need with a cryogenic freeze tank? It makes for a cool death scene, but why would it be so accessible to students? It makes you wonder what other diabolical concoctions are on the syllabus besides the ultimate dog houses assigned in shop class. Alan Ruck, who played Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” plays an abusive shop teacher who no safety goggle can protect.
“Freaky” doesn’t skimp on gore. The opening sequence is a loving reminder of the unabashed fun a slaughter can bring once you lean into an R-rating. Some of the killings will make you squirm, one eye-piercing bit might make you look away, and there are a few sequences of horrific violence which will make you giggle, but not because they fail. The choreography in the fight scene between the Vaughn-sized Millie and her two besties is laugh out loud funny.
While the film is a comedy, it opens with relentless tension and maintains a steady degree of suspense. Moody lighting enhances shadowy thrills but also brightens visual gags. Composer Bear McCreary’s incidental music captures both the spooky atmosphere of the slasher genre, as well as the lighter tones of the slightly-less-than idyllic high school experience. His sliding strings mock the proceedings while celebrating them.
“Freaky” is as self-consciously horrific as the “Scream” franchise, and Millie’s favorite TV show is, of course “Sabrina.” Landon, whose “Happy Death Day” movies lavished much love on Alfred Hitchcock films, has inordinate fun insidiously and gleefully referencing “Friday the 13th,” “Prom Night,” Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” and of course “Halloween.” While some of it is a little too clever for its own good, “Freaky” is punctuated by enough snappy one-liners and masked murderer thrills to compensate. It ends with a feel-good moment of triumphant family unity. But ultimately the message is: weak and bullied teenaged girls should probably spend more time in the bodies of much larger, psychopathic serial killers.
“Freaky” releases Nov. 13 in select cities and Nov. 30 on VOD.