The body swap concept has been around for quite a while (so long, in fact, that the very opening of this review sounds familiar). We have no fewer than three different movie versions of “Freaky Friday” which doesn’t count the TV movie (sidenote: they’re all based on a book… yes, it was a novel before a film). There are TV shows built around body swaps and some series have done standalone episodes exploring the idea. There have been a myriad of spins on the concept. And why shouldn’t there be so many examples of the genre? After all, it works.
A new entry in group, “Freaky,” opens this weekend. Directed by Christopher Landon (of “Happy Death Day” fame) and written by Landon & Michael Kennedy, this twist on the body swap features a serial killer, The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), switching places with a high school senior, Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton).
What you really have here is the combining of two genres – the body swap and the slasher film. This affords everyone in the cast—which also includes Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich as Millie’s friends, Nyla and Josh, as well as Katie Finneran and Dana Drori as Millie’s mother and sister, respectively—the opportunity to not just yell and scream, but to make with the yucks as well.
Generally speaking, and giving away the ending of this review, it works. “Freaky” isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done. There are a number of fun, but perhaps not terribly inventive, deaths and Vaughn plays a teenage girl with some sense of nuance rather than just going for broad, easy, laughs. Newton handles both killer and teen equally well even if one questions The Butcher’s ability to perfectly put on makeup and choose a great outfit.
Maybe though I’m wrong with this last bit, maybe The Butcher is able to do these things with great skill because they’ve been relevant in his life. This is where the biggest issue in the film crops up – The Butcher is less a character than a stand-in for one that’s going to be developed later. For much of the time, The Butcher is silent, unwilling to speak no matter whose body he’s in. While that’s initially suspenseful, as it continues it just becomes grating. Don’t Millie’s friends and classmates and teachers expect her to speak when she’s in school? Would they really allow her to be silent for as long as she is? It actually goes on so long that when The Butcher starts to speak one has to question the reason for the change and then why he doesn’t stop talking later.
To be sure, this isn’t the same as a horror movie having a silent killer in the background who pops up, murders folks, and then disappears only to pop up again later, killing someone else. No, The Butcher is one of the lead characters and the movie spends a lot of time with him not talking, not divulging anything about who he is or what he’s doing or why. Rather than this being Newton’s problem in her personification of the murderer, I would argue that her death stares allow the silence to work far longer than it should. She is really quite good in the film.
It is potentially true that the movie recognizes this issue and so, as it progresses, things seem to focus more heavily on Millie inside The Butcher’s body as opposed to The Butcher being inside hers. There at least we have a character and motivation and a reason to keep watching outside of cheering deaths. Watching Vaughn’s Millie get closer to both her mother and her own potential beau, Booker Strode (Uriah Shelton), is at times both touching and funny.
Without question there is more good than bad here, including Alan Ruck as a teacher at the school with a spectacularly great horseshoe mustache. The movie keeps pushing along at a fair pace, offering up victims on a regular basis, moments of shock, and plenty of laughs. It isn’t as inventive or fun as the first “Death Day” movie, but it’s enjoyable. If funny horror movies are your thing or you’re a fan of the body swap and don’t mind blood, it is definitely worth checking out “Freaky.” There is a definite sense that it doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders, but it hits enough to be worth it (provided that you’re watching at home and not in a theater where you’re liable to catch COVID).
photo credit: Universal Pictures