Freakily good

The Plot: Teenager Millie (Kathryn Newton) isn’t the popular girl in school. Quiet and frequently bullied by her peers, she’s unsure of where her life is heading. It appears that she’s heading for an early grave though when she encounters the town’s resident serial killer, The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn). When he stabs her with a mystical Aztec dagger, something strange happens and he runs away. The next morning Millie wakes up to his middle-aged body – and she’s wearing it. The dagger has arranged a swap of minds and personalities. Now she has to convince her besties Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) that it’s really her. They have less than 24 hours to reverse the curse and stop The Blissfield Butcher slaughtering Millie’s classmates…

The Verdict: Writer/director Christopher Landon likes to mix things up. He takes tried-and-tested formulas for genre films and sticks them in the blender with other films for a heady mash-up cocktail. It could turn out to be a goeey mess of course, the kind that is left behind by the deranged serial killer of his new film Freaky. However, Landon knows his genre films and how to re-arrange the dismembered limbs into something coherent and enjoyably daft that stands up straight, whatever the loopy premise. It worked for Happy Death Day, which was Groundhog Day re-worked as a slasher film. For Freaky, he’s taken Disney’s body swap classic Freaky Friday, ditched the ditsy water-skiing mother and instead arranged a body swap between a teenage girl and a Jason Voorhees-style masked maniac with a killer sense of style.

It’s a great idea for a horror film, given the horrific / comedic potential of the premise. Horror and comedy are such good bedfellows too, but getting the tone right can be a tricky balance for any filmmaker. Landon has found that sweet spot somewhere amidst the raging carnage and raging teenage hormones. He sets the tone right early on, with a literal nod to a revered John Carpenter film and big, splashy titles that amp up the campy fun of it all. The story then settles down to introduce the insecure Millie and how she finds her mind and personality in the killer’s body. After the initial shock, it’s not such a bad thing for her it seems. She enjoys the physical strength of being a tall man, bringing out the inner strength within her to stand up to her bullies. Meanwhile, the Blissfield Butcher uses Millie’s body to get closer to the next targets.

Landon plays this hilarious switcheroo premise to the hilt, with Vaughn having immense fun getting in touch with his inner teenage girl a la Jack Black. After several intense roles in recent years which have tested and proved his range as an actor, he kicks back with some great physical comedy while also getting the hulking menace of The Blissfield Butcher across too. He easily steals the film, though he’s surrounded by a decent group of young actors who prop him up well. If there’s a fault in the writing though, it’s that The Blissfield Butcher is given so little backstory that Newton doesn’t have much to work with once she turns into ‘Murder Barbie’. She has that intense stare and striding confidence of a killer, but there’s not much more beyond that – though she gives a good performance. One also has to wonder what cryogenic freezers and lethal buzzsaws are doing in an average American high school, but they could be explained away by the amusing implausibility of the film anyway.

After more release dates in this part of the world than corpses in a Friday The 13th film, it’s a relief that Freaky has finally splattered its way onto a cinema screen. It may not be the smartest horror film to come out recently, but it is one of the most purely enjoyable and has been worth the wait. That’s down to the self-aware tone, smart casting and a script that leans towards female empowerment in a surprising way. Freakily good.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Review by Gareth O’Connor

Freaky (USA / 16 / 102 mins)

In short: Freakily good

Directed by Christopher Landon.

Starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Celeste O'Connor, Misha Osherovich, Alan Ruck.

Freakily good