© 2020 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS
Who knew that what the world needed was a body-swap film that was a cross between Friday the 13th and Freaky Friday? Filmmaker Christopher Landon and his writing partner Michael Kennedy are who, and Freaky is the film. After months of waiting for it to arrive on UK shores, this Friday we can finally go to cinemas to watch it, and thankfully it is very much worth the wait.
Seventeen-year-old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) is trying to survive the bloodthirsty halls of Blissfield High and the cruelty of the popular crowd. But when she becomes the newest target of The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), her town’s infamous serial killer, her senior year becomes the least of her worries. Waking up the morning after a close encounter with The Butcher, Millie is horrified to find that she’s no longer in her own body, but rather that of The Butcher. Even worse, The Butcher is now in possession of Millie’s body, and may have found the perfect disguise to commit unlimited murders at the upcoming Homecoming Dance.
Freaky follows Landon’s Happy Death Day formula of mixing humour and horror with some serious coming of age issues. Milie and her family are still in mourning following the death of her father, and the destruction left in the wake of his passing has caused Millie to forget herself. When we first meet her, she’s the epitome of introverted people pleaser, and is living her life for those around her. After being transported into the body of the butcher, she finds herself suddenly free of those obligations, and through that, oddly empowered. This emotional journey ties the two bodies together, and wraps the fun and frights with a smattering of John Hughes vibes, enabling Freaky to stand as a film worthy of repeat viewings.
Already having a recurring role on Supernatural and a lead role in The Society already under her belt, with Freaky, Kathryn Newton asserts herself as a horror icon in the making. Her legacy will have the relatively unique boast of her having played both final girl and stalker killer. It’s not everyday that an actor is given the challenge of portraying these two very different parts and Newton does a fantastic job. As Millie she’s not that dissimilar from some of her previous characters, but it is her work as the Blissfield Butcher inhabiting her body that really stands out. In this role, Newton’s performance becomes more physical, stoic, and the menace she radiates is palpable.
Newton of course isn’t the only cast member that has to tackle two roles within one body, co-star Vince Vaughn has the same task ahead of him. As the Butcher he too is exceptionally frightening, effortlessly channeling his inner Jason Voorhees. The hard work for Vaughn comes from the challenge of having to convey a teenage girl trapped in an adult male’s body. His performance is similar in a lot of ways to that of Jack Black in the Jumanji films; Vaughn milks plenty of laughs from the material whilst still communicating the character of Millie’s journey from meek to empowered.
As his work on the Happy Death Day films has already proven, Christopher Landon is no stranger to filming inventive deaths. In those films he repeatedly murders his time-loop-trapped lead character Tree in all manner of unimaginable ways. In Freaky he steps things up about twenty notches and has created some of the best slasher film deaths in decades. The opening sequence is full of crowd-pleasing kills that unfurl at a break-neck speed. Landon throws everything he can into these first few scenes, pumping the audience up and promising a far more gruesome tale than Happy Death Day. From here on Landon eases up on the gas, giving time to build his characters and their world before chucking more red stuff on the screen, but this move helps generate anticipation. The opening has proved that Landon has the ability and conviction to get gory, and the tease of trying to work out when the next epic kill will arrive is half the fun.
Towards the end, Freaky’s momentum begins to slacken, and a couple of story choices don’t quite connect as well as they should, but the overall viewing experience is one of blissful delight. Body swap films are always fun, as are slashers. By combining both themes, Landon has birthed an unholy union between horror, comedy, and coming-of-age story, making Freaky an instant modern horror classic. Sequel now please.
Freaky arrives on DVD in the UK on Monday 4th October 2021.
This review first appeared on THN.