Body Swapping and Horror Gore
While watching Freaky, the new horror from the guy who brought us the Happy Death Day movies, the lyrics to a Smashing Pumpkins song kept running through my head. You know, the one that goes "the killer in me is the killer in you?" That’s most likely because in Freaky, the bodies of a teenage girl and her killer are inexplicably swapped, leaving the young girl wandering the halls of her high school inside the body of a serial killer.
Freaky borrows from a relatively long list of films that feature body-swapping premises including, among others, the two Freaky Fridays (one in the 70s with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, another in 2003 with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis), Jack Black’s Jumanji films and Tom Hanks’ Big. Most of those films were straight-up comedies, however, director/co-writer Christopher Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy set out to turn the premise on its head by blending the body-swap concept with elements of pitch-black comedy, paranormal happenings, and bloody slasher horror.
While the filmmakers must be given credit for thinking outside the traditional horror box – so many these days don’t, there are far too many things the team didn’t get right. As a result, this twisted take on the body-swap sub-genre, despite its high body count, fails to satisfy the bloodthirsty appetite of horror hounds looking for something new and refreshing. And neither is it quite funny enough to uphold the film’s pledge of shooting for a funny mash-up of Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th.
The film opens with a segment that features two high school couples cuddling and smooching while recalling the urban legend of a killer who is rumored to have wreaked havoc on homecoming years prior with a murderous rampage through the school’s gym. Before the rumor is confirmed or denied, we are instantly reminded of the film’s R rating as the two couples meet their gruesome demise at the hands of the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn, Swingers). Can’t recall ever seeing that done with a wine bottle before!
Next, we meet 17-year-old high schooler Millie (Kathryn Newton, Blockers) who prefers to keep a low profile and splits most of her time between her two best friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor, Irreplaceable You) and Josh (Misha Osherovich, The Goldfinch), and her extra-curricular activities, one of which is donning a beaver mascot costume at the school’s football games. Millie is bullied by many of her peers, so there’s no hiding the fact of who will find themselves on the wrong end of the final girl spectrum.
Following the school’s homecoming football game, Millie is abandoned by Nyla and Josh while waiting for a ride from her mother who is passed out drunk at home. And, as Millie waits, who shows up but the Blissfield Butcher, with his misshapen hockey mask and a dagger that carries a curse from a previous murder – don’t ask. Anyway, rather than killing Millie, the attempt only initiates a body swap with The Butcher taking over Millie’s body and Millie waking up inside the Butcher’s. Sing it with me, “the killer in me is the killer in you?”
The film then becomes a madcap race against the clock as Millie has just 24 hours to reverse the curse lest she become permanently trapped inside the body of a middle-aged maniac forever.
Despite its unique premise which has never been done before, Freaky fails on too many other levels to become the landmark of horror it sets out to be. First, despite her solid performance, Newton’s Millie is way too under-developed to get our love and attention. Sure, she’s somewhat of an outcast at school, bullied by her peers - something we can all relate to. But she’s also portrayed as the ugly duckling outcast, which, even when dressed down quite considerably, fails to hide her movie star beauty. And no, giving her a black bff and a gay male friend doesn’t play up her outcast persona, nor does it raise the film’s standing in the new “woke” Hollywood. It just makes you look desperate.
Secondly, the jokes that are born from a middle-aged man taking over the body of a young girl, and vice versa, are neither smart nor clever. They really don’t even classify as juvenile humor. There’s the requisite sequence of the Butcher clutching his new breasts in sheer delight, and naturally, Millie is fascinated by her newfound way of using the bathroom. But that’s about as smart as it gets.
The film is best when it’s patrolling the high school halls where the real terror exists. That of bullying peers and an intimidating wood shop teacher. Now that’s true horror! Even though there’s a significant degree of revenge getting, it’s too little too late to elevate this thing into a deeper story about a young woman finding her inner strength and power. It’s just doesn’t go second-level deep.
Freaky gives us plenty of blood-splattering gore – remember the woodworking shop mentioned above? – and the requisite number of jump scares to tick enough boxes to truly deserve its R rating. But ultimately, the gag grows old about halfway in, and despite his hulking 6’5” frame, Vaughn is never convincing as the killer, nor is he particularly funny as a teenage girl. Perhaps it will do in a pandemic where the theater fare is sparse and the competition for fresh air virtually eliminated. Other than that, you might do better letting Billy Corgin and company tell you about the horrors of generational abuse and bullying in their Disarm video.
(Released by Blumhouse and rated “R” for strong bloody horror violence sexual content, and language throughout.
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.