Spooky season may be over, but nobody told Blumhouse, the studio behind the mass production of low budget horror flicks over the last decade. With the calendar boasting a Friday the 13th in November, how could they not put out another slasher?
Enter Blumhouse veteran Christopher Landon and his new film “Freaky.” Landon’s most recent horror outings at the studio, the “Happy Death Day” series, took the “Groundhog Day” timeloop premise and spooked it up, and this time around he’s adapting another classic trope: the body swap. The title is no doubt a nod to “Freaky Friday,” perhaps the most iconic of the subgenre, but the content of the film feels like something more in line with a “Friday the 13th” or “Halloween” movie – but like, one of the bad ones that comes fifth or sixth in the franchise.
By forcing so many genres to blend together – gory violence, attempts at comedy and cringe-inducing emotional beats – “Freaky” tries to do so much it ends up doing nothing.
Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) is your typical high school lead – a shy semi-nerdy senior who’s always existed on the outskirts of the social scene. Bullied by the jocks, mocked by the “cool girls” and consumed by an unstable home life, Millie’s only source of comfort comes from her two best friends, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich).
When the homecoming dance comes around, everyone at Blissfield High is on edge. Instead of celebrating, they’re filled with fear as four teenagers are found brutally murdered and rumors of a legendary killer known as The Butcher (Vince Vaughn) resurface. One night, Millie meets the cold blooded killer for herself, but when the murderer misuses his ancient Aztec dagger he’s unable to kill the teenager, and the two end up trapped in each other’s bodies.
With only 24 hours until the swap becomes permanent, Millie – stuck in the lumbering 6-foot-5 frame of Vaughn – must avoid the police, track down the weapon and use it to stab the real Butcher and reverse the curse. All the while, the killer is using Millie’s unassuming stature to continue on his killing spree through Blissfield High.
If you’ve seen the trailer for “Freaky,” it looks like a fun, lighthearted horror romp with more laughs than scares. Ultimately, it doesn’t have much of either, but what it does have is a shocking amount of blood and guts. In the film’s opening scene, The Butcher gets creative as he murders four high schoolers, and while the killing doesn’t come in a way that’s disturbing enough to feel unsettling, it’s still extremely gratuitous and absurd. This excess feels at odds with the rest of the film as it tries to alternate between cheap comedy and overblown attempts at emotion, and the result is a sort of tonal whiplash.
In the leading roles, Vaughn and Newton are more convincing playing their swapped characters than their true selves – which is honestly impressive. It’s hard to believe a star like Newton, known for roles in “Big Little Lies” or “Blockers,” could be an overlooked high schooler shunned by boys and popular girls alike, and she doesn’t play the part very convincingly. But once she’s possessed by The Butcher, the glow up is real, turning Millie into a boss bitch, and that’s a role Newton can nail.
The same goes for Vaughn, who isn’t really given much to do as the intimidating killer, but instead gets a chance to shine embracing his inner teenage girl. Beyond the stars, though, the performances across the board are incredibly lackluster.
Promising in premise – it’s quite literally Freaky Friday the 13th – “Freaky” fails to live up to the standard of any of the films it’s trying to emulate. Instead, it’s another cookie cutter Blumhouse flick with a few cheap thrills but not much else.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.