Freaky Friday, but make it brutal, is what the trailers for Freaky, the latest from Blumhouse and Universal, sold audiences and it delivers, right down to the problematic means for the body switch. Freaky comes from director Christopher Landon and is co-written by Landon and Michael Kennedy. In the film 17-year-old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) is barely surviving high school and The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), her town’s infamous serial killer, is chasing down survivors in a big house.
When the two meet, The Butcher’s mystical Aztec ancient dagger – because indigenous curses are apparently still alive and well in the genre – causes him and Millie to wake up in each other’s bodies. With 24-hours to get her body back, Millie (as played by Vaughn) attempts to get her body back while the entire city is looking for the body she’s in. With some help from her friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor), Joshua (Misha Osherovich), and her crush Booker (Uriah Shelton), Millie races against the clock to reverse the curse while The Butcher discovers that having a female teen body is the perfect cover for a killing spree even if it is a lot weaker than he’s used to.
The film itself is fast-paced in the best way, with monumentally creative kills marking its progression. Every kill and twist shows Landon and Kennedy have both deep love and a deep understanding of slashers. Freaky takes every opportunity to let you know that the creative duo behind the film is clever, knows the tropes, and knows just how to subvert them enough to surprise you and still honor the slashers that came before. Additionally, it also honors the body-switching comedies as well.
A middle-aged man playing a teen girl, and a teen girl playing a middle-aged man can easily fall into cliches or feel derivative of the past examples we’ve been shown. Thankfully, Vaughn and Netwon deliver performances that feel wholly their own to hilarious effect. As Butcher-Millie, Newton is chilling, irreverent, and brutal and alternatively, Vaughn’s Millie-Butcher is hilarious, vibrant, and offers up the juxtaposition needed to make the body-switch work. Ultimately, the film’s success from a narrative standpoint comes from Newton and Vaughn’s performances that show the very best of killers and comedic teens who are more confused than conniving.
That said, what I wasn’t expecting was just how well the relationship and back-and-forth between Millie-Butcher and her friends. It’s seamless, it flows, and even when they’re fighting feels like three teen friends talking – even if one of them is a middle-aged man. In fact, the best moments of the film, when it comes to acting, comes when Millie-Butcher, Noya, and Joshua are together. Their first meeting is a master-class in physical comedy and nothing beats Vaughn performing a cheerleading cheer to win them over.
With all of its strengths, there is one failt. The way they switch bodies is a point of contention for me. While I expect stereotypes to come into play in slashers, the use of an indigenous curse, yes it still counts if the civilization is thousands of years old, is frustrating. Equipped with a generic Aztec temple showing up below them when the body switch moment happens. While this isn’t the most problematic thing that could have done, it’s an element that feels too much like a remnant of horror’s past. In a film that tries to be socially aware of its brief critiques, this element is exaggerated by the fact the dagger has Spanish on it and not Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. While I’m sure this is a plot hole needed to progress the story by using a high school Spanish teacher, it’s frustrating all the same. Aztec sacrifice, cursed dagger, and poof. Let’s be honest, we’ve come a long way since Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan’s fortune cookie, so shouldn’t the plot device for the switch reflect that?
Now, I know what you’re saying, Kate, you said this is small but you spent a whole paragraph on it. You’re right, I did. And I did it because Freaky is a smart self-aware film that pokes fun of all of the gender expectations we know of slashers and yet, it’s a plot device for the switch is a lazy and tired trope that should be phased out of horror writing rooms by now.
Ultimately, however, my gripe with this element of the film is overshadowed by just how well each and every kill is executed. As a slasher fan, the kills are what I’m here for and Freaky delivers. From a cryotherapy chamber and a table saw to all manners of slicing and dicing I can plainly say that Landon and Kennedy deliver on the slasher shocks in a way that makes this film a must-see slasher. The way that the humor has been woven into the gore is executed to perfection. The absurdity of the kills is matched by the technical execution of the effects work.
While Freaky isn’t perfect by any means, this is yet again another film that shows that slashers are alive and well and that the genre can thrive in 2020 just as well as it did in the 1970s. With Happy Death Day already in its catalog, I’m looking forward to other Blumhouse slasher’s I’m sure are in the pipeline, especially if they come with the level of awareness and creativity that Freaky delivers.
Freaky is in theaters on November 13, 2020.
While I Freaky isn’t perfect by any means, this is yet again another film that shows that slashers are alive and well and that the genre can thrive in 2020 just as well as it did in the 1970s. With Happy Death Day already in its catalog, I’m looking forward to other Blumhouse slasher’s I’m sure are in the pipeline, especially if they come with the level of awareness and creativity that Freaky delivers.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.