Body swap movies have been with us for as long as we can remember. In the original Freaky Friday from 1977, Jodie Foster’s character switches places with her mom, played by Barbara Harris. In 18 Again!, it’s a grandfather and his grandson. The switch always differs. It can be because of a car accident, magical potion, or a wish cast during the full moon. It can also be a demonic ritual involving a mystical blade – that’s what happens in Freaky where a teenage girl switches bodies with a serial killer. This horror comedy, directed by Christopher Landon (of both Happy Death Days), written by Michael Kennedy (Fox’s “Bordertown”) and Landon, is a bloody feast for every slasher fan, packed with inventive deaths and campy characters.
It’s Friday the 13th, and for Millie (Kathryn Newton), it’s just another ordinary day in high school. After her father’s passing, she helps her mom, Coral (Katie Finneran), with the house chores while her sister, Charlene (Dana Drori), a young police officer, keeps her family in check. But her boring, ordinary daily life is disrupted by a serial killer called “the Butcher” (Vince Vaughn). What was once just an urban legend to scare the kids turns out to be a very real, very dangerous, brutal murderer.
After being stabbed by the Butcher, Millie’s nightmare is not over yet. The girl wakes up on a dirty mattress, surrounded by creepy faces of mannequins & dolls – inside the Butcher’s body. After the first wave of shock passes, Millie reaches out to her best friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), for help. The teenagers, together with Booker (Uriah Shelton), the boy that Millie likes, must stop the Butcher, whose soul now roams through their high school in a killing spree – inside of Millie’s body. The friends have to retrieve the knife used for the body switch before Millie is forever stuck in the man’s body.
Landon’s Freaky can be described as an incredibly entertaining, campy, blood-soaked fun. It starts with a bang. Or, rather, with a wine bottle. Landon really kicks it up a notch and comes up with the strangest, and hence, more inventive and entirely unique death scenes. There is a bottle of wine involved, yes, and also a cryotherapy machine, or more traditionally – a death scene involving a table saw as seen often in horror.
I does possesses a subtle Happy Death Day vibe – it maintains a similar feeling in regards to the narrative and the combination of comedy and slasher genre elements. The filmmaker incorporates the best parts of many 80s / 90s slashers: the campiness, exaggerated characters, and a masked killer (that’s unmasked right away) whose only goal is to kill. Freaky nods to these films and laughs at their artificiality, but it’s never mockery, rather an acknowledgment of their importance in cinematic discourse. Taking these components, Landon blends it with his core theme – the lessons of a body swap, further refreshed to contemporary pop culture. What makes it distinct and worth watching is Freaky’s originality – how many times before have we really seen a teenager switch bodies with a serial killer? The entire concept itself is something eccentric and outright crazy. Let’s add Vaughn and Newton to the mix and we have something really freaky.
Kathryn Newton, as shy Millie, shows off her comedic side. The actress known from Blockers and “Big Little Lies” has a chance to become a badass serial killer who doesn’t really talk all that much. She lets her saw and a knife do all the talking. At first, Newton’s Millie embodies her personality – she is a shy outsider who’s constantly bullied. But as the Butcher, she suddenly becomes a strong, bold, and dangerous woman. It is fascinating to see that it takes her becoming a serial killer to finally see herself for who she truly is – an incredibly smart adolescent young woman. But sometimes we all need that kick.
At first, I didn’t know what to expect from Vaughn. The Butcher has serious Michael Myers’ vibes where silence is his main attribute. But once “Millie” wakes up on a stained mattress, everything changes. There is yelling, and a lot of it. The actor, who’s a comedy old-timer, is not afraid of anything. He dances or runs in the most hilarious, bizarre way and has the best time with O’Connor and Osherovich, who play Millie’s friends. One of the most entertaining moments is the actor expressing shock and surprise at how strong he is. Millie (in the Butcher’s body) is drunk with strength and boldness. She often kicks or pushes too hard, not knowing the full extent of the serial killer’s strength.
The supporting cast only further strengthens the core narrative. Each character has a specific task that must be done to defeat the Butcher. One of the funniest scenes is where Josh must keep the Butcher (as in, Millie) tied to a chair when suddenly his mom comes back home. What starts as a made-up sex role-playing game ends up a chase around the house. Drori, on the other hand, who plays Millie’s sister, would be that one person I’d have a crush on if I were friends with the main character. There are plenty more scenes that are equally hilarious and just as fun. When Nyla attacks the Butcher aka Millie with kitchen appliances or when the main character, in the serial killer’s body, confesses to Booker that she has a crush on him. The latter is exceptionally humorous given the circumstances – they are both squeezed in the back of the car, where Vaughn’s character barely fits.
The only thing to really complain about is that Freaky could be a little bit more elaborative. I’d love to see more direct encounters between the Butcher and Millie and even more campiness and overall madness. However, the horror film still does its job and the final scene is very satisfying. There is a lot of gore, and that’s one of the best parts of Freaky. The film is not scared of being bloody – to the point where you just want to squint your eyes a little bit.
In the end, Landon’s latest creation is a thoroughly wild rollercoaster, packed with odd characters and great performances. It’s definitely something we all need this year. It offers nostalgia and appreciation for slasher films from the past and, ultimately, is a satisfying watch for every slasher fan. It’s bloodier than you can expect with gore flooding the screen. You will see lots of guts and body parts, but isn’t that the ultimate goal of this particular subgenre? If you’re a true fan, you’re going to love every single minute of it, believe me.
Zofia’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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