James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Clay// Film Critic
Screenwriter/director Christopher Landon has never strayed too far from horror in his time in the industry writing several Paranormal Activity films, directing the 2015 film SCOUT’S GUIDE TO THE APOCALYPSE and the career high score of 2017’s HAPPY DEATH DAY followed by HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U in 2019. These movies (aside from Scout’s) gave the filmmaker a home at Hollywood’s low budget and creatively boundless production company Blumhouse.
It’s clear the creative partners at this studio value innovation on familiar aspects of horror rather than making bank at the box office. Landon’s work for the studio has had a gleeful independence that invites audiences into his quirky world filled with meta commentary, sharp writing that never takes itself too seriously, and Landon is able to hide a little thematic material in his work along the way.
While HAPPY DEATH DAY focused on subverting the Groundhog Day tropes, FREAKY brings a new look to reinventing he body swap comedy with his own take on Freaky Friday. Starring Vince Vaughn who has been looking to reinvent himself as the media landscape has changed, and Katherine Newman, who has been reliable in roles such as BLOCKERS and BEN IS BACK over the years.
The film finds and a zany twist on the genre where a serial killer (Vaughn) takes a magical knife and stabs a young woman (Newman) in the shoulder to swap places for reasons that don’t ever really become clear…besides the fact that its necessary for the the plot. Overall though FREAKY is a disappointment for being overly eager to flex its self referential muscles to the point where its grating. Sometimes filmmaking you can take a great premise and beat it into the ground by doing too much to please its audience.
Millie (Newman) is a bullied high school student who lives with her mom and older sister following the death of her dad, meanwhile The Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn) is on the loose absolutely annihilating teenagers in their sleepy town. Millie relies on her friends’ Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’ Connor) effervescent personalities to give her the slightest bit of confidence in navigating the high school experience. Landon is taking the character archetypes and plot points we all know from slashers and putting his own spin on things.
This goes from problematic views horror has had on LGBTQIA and people of color, Landon gives those underserved demos a mouthpiece to get in on the fun. It’s an organic turn that proved to be one of the most innovating aspects of the film, you feel like Landon fosters an environment that breeds trust on set. This extends to veteran actor Vince Vaughn who gets the chance spit his improvisational venom once he starts to inhabit Millie’s body.
Watching him play in that sandbox is every bit as entertaining as you’d hoped it be, also VV is no slouch when it comes to bringing a formidable presence to the screen. Vaughn’s roles in the PSYCHO remake challenged the actor while, more recent roles such BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 reinvented what audiences could expect from the funnyman. Vaughn’s rambling rants of improv are in full force and his 20 plus year technique that made him famous in SWINGERS still has yet to grow stale. It’s all about shaking things up a bit for these actors audiences have grown up with through the years.
FREAKY is a crowd pleaser through and through looking to animate its audience on a few different levels that work to a varying degree. From the level of ingenuity in its kills, to the new types of character stepping into the forefront, it’s just a little pointless to pick apart a movie that has one goal in mind, to be entertaining and its that, loads of fun. While Landon is at his most confident as a director the material suffers a bit from that self-assuredness, jokes fall flat, become mean spirited and lack a human connection that made the HAPPY DEATH DAY films infectious.
FREAKY is exactly what you think it’s going to be, a little expendable and a tad forgettable, but enjoyable nevertheless.
FREAKY opens in theaters on November 13.