Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated R, 101 minutes
Directed by: Christopher Landon
It’s rare when a film can combine two genres into a fresh, unique property by upending each genre’s tropes. But here we are with FREAKY, a horror-comedy, body-swap-themed smash-up that does quite a few ingenious things with its ingredients. This hilarious, sharp, cutting confection delivers delicious thrills and kills a’plenty all while showcasing the perfectly pitched performances of its two leads. It’s a total bloody blast.
Introverted 17-yearold Millie (Kathryn Newton) is struggling with home life and high school. Her father died a year prior and, even though she’s got older sister Charlene (Dana Drori) in the house, she bears the brunt of the responsibility for taking care of her alcoholic, grieving mother (Kate Finneran). Despite having two best friends to confide in, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), she’s mercilessly bullied at school by a few jerky jocks, a mean girl (Melissa Collazo), and a megalomaniac shop teacher (Alan Ruck). She’s also further emotionally tortured by her unrequited crush on cutie classmate Booker (Uriah Shelton).
However, Millie’s world turns upside down when the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), the serial killer subject of many hometown urban legends, targets her as his next victim, stabbing her during a fateful full moon. Unbeknownst to either predator or prey, his mystical dagger unlocked an ancient spell that causes the pair to wake up the following morning in each other’s bodies. Millie quickly learns that she’s only got 24 hours to reverse the curse – but it’s going to be a challenge. She’s trapped in the body of a towering psychopath the whole town is looking for, and her murder-minded soulmate has totally taken to his transformative cover as a laconic, bloodthirsty babe.
Along with the coherently-shot and cleverly-constructed kills, co-writer-director Christopher Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy deliver smart, elevated allegorical context for the affecting emotional through-line centering on Millie’s grief. The perspective shift she experiences after loss and her familial dynamic changing due to her mom succumbing to sorrow subtly parallels the picturesque suburbia suffering from something sinister. Her empowering journey isn’t solely about learning to step into her own power, but also to triumphantly heal from pain and sadness by tackling seemingly-insurmountable challenges. Amidst the zaniness and misadventure, they make room for a heartfelt scene between mother and daughter in a changing room.
Outside of the more dramatic aspects, it’s multi-layered comedy at its best. There’s a lot of great dialogue (“We’ve done a lot of hitting,” Millie in the Butcher’s body says after her re-introduction to her pals), but also a wild audaciousness to many of the gags (like Millie convincing Booker who she is). The picture also is highly effective in its queer representation. Josh makes a few meta comments about his chances for survival given his nature.
Since this is a slasher at its heart, the filmmakers also deliver fun frights. The manner in which each of the despicably mean characters are set up borders on caricature, but their comeuppances are fully earned, making their deaths satiating to see. Laurie Rose’s cinematography amps up the drama and tonal color of these sequences, adding a chic polish and saturated elegance to the bloodshed. Editor Ben Baudhuin’s clean cuts are perfectly paced.
Vaughn’s physicality – all lumbering 6 feet and 5 inches of it – is used to enhance not only the comedy gags, but also the tension when he’s in killer mode. His work here is akin to Jack Black’s in JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, but without feeling like a repeat. Vaughn nails it, whether he’s channeling the spirit of a teen girl through his body movements (the way he runs is indescribably funny and a true joy), or using his body as a forceful, intimidating tool to toss victims around like rag dolls. Newton is particularly adept at her dual role, as both the likable, vulnerable underdog and the strong, badass murderess. She carries both off with aplomb.
With gleeful gusto and glorious amounts of gumption, this FREAKY FRIDAY THE 13TH mashup slashes straight through to our hearts.
Grade: 4 out of 5
FREAKY opens in theaters on November 13.