Not satisfied with giving a millennial slasher spin to the sky-high concepts of Groundhog Day and Back To The Future II with the Happy Death Day movies, director Christopher Landon returns to give the same treatment to the body swap movie to give us what essentialy is Freaky Friday The 13th (apparently the original title). However, instead of simply giving a tried and true idea nothing more than a stalk and slash makeover, Landon has possibly crafted a movie with a strong LGBTQ streak that may stand as one of the best Queer populist horror movies of resent times, while still managing to be an absolute fucking hoot of a ride that doesn’t sacrifice jumps, gore, laughs, or integrity in it’s primary aim to entertain.
It’s time to get Freaky with it…
The picturesque town of Blissfield has a dark legend that hangs over it’s white picket fences and school pep rallies and it’s known as the legend of the Blissfield Butcher – a legend that seems awfully real after we see him cut a devilishly creative swathe of murder through a quartet of tipsy teens the night before homecoming. After finishing up his work, the mountainous murderer takes with him a mystical dagger that calls to him known as La Dola and heads off into the night to await fate to throw him a new victim. Enter Millie Kessler, a shy, insecure teen still trying to rebound from her fathers death a year earlier and who has to endure the usual high school bullshit from mean girls, jocks and bullying teachers despite support from her friends Josh and Nyla. Stranded after the High School’s homecoming football game thanks to an alcoholic mother, Millie’s chance encounter with the Blissfield Butcher takes a hard left after she is stabbed in the shoulder by La Dola and ultimately involves both parties waking up the next morning to find that their minds have switched bodies.
Before you can scream “Hayley Mills!”, the Butcher realises that this extreme makeover could be beneficial at continuing his rampage thanks to the fact that he’s now a tiny blonde girl – Millie on the other hand has no such silver lining as she now has to traverse her hometown wearing the puffy face and heavy set frame of a serial killer who’s face is now common knowledge.
Somehow convincing her friends of her predicament, the group figures out that the dagger is the culprit and that they only have twenty four hours from since Millie was stabbed to switch them back before this shit gets on the permanent side. However the Butcher is enjoying this new lease on anonymity and isn’t about to let his new body go without a fight – or at least a few mutilated victims – so the clock is ticking for Millie to avoid the town’s police force in order to put things right and take the Butcher down for good.
Released by the ubiquitous Blumhouse studios, Freaky still tackles the kind of social issues that makes the studio that gave us Get Out and The Purge so distinctive – but like his previous Happy Death Day outings, Christopher Landon is chiefly concerned with everyone having fun. And have fun we most certainly do thanks to the sparky script co-written by the director and Michael Kennedy and two, top notch performances by the swapees of the film, Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn, who makes this version of the body swap movie as absurd and entertaining as Face/Off.
Vaughn is amazing as the Jason-esque Butcher (putting all that menacing physicality from Brawl In Cell 99 Block to good use) but he fucking smashes it while playing a perky teenage girl and I frankly will never get enough of watching his burly frame awkwardly run from scene to scene. It’s a comedy masterclass in body language and performance and may actually be better than Jack Black’s similar turn in the Jumanji reboots (they both even include scenes where the lead female character has to urinate with a penis for the first time with Millie dubbing it a “floppy ant eater”), but Vaughn manages to excel with an genuinely heartwarming scene where Millie confesses to her crush her true feelings despite being trapped in the form of a six foot six madman.
Alternatively, Newton also impressively channels the imposing stature of a hulking, silent maniac and while she predictably gets less laughs than Vaughn, she can still throw a screaming victim into the blades of a band saw with the best of them… Featuring a vast amount of nods to past movies from both the body swaping and body chopping genres that including a mask that massively resembles Jason Voorhees’ choice of face wear and a scene where Millie does a cheerleader chant to prove her identity that heavily riffs on a similar moment from Big, Freaky isn’t shy about wearing it’s influences in it’s blood smeared sleeve and it all adds to the weirdly feed good ambience that the director also displayed so sharply with Happy Death Day.
The rest of the cast work well with Misha Osherovich’s openly gay Josh standing out in particular while dealing out some razor sharp teen-speak (eg. dismissing something as “Tragicstan”) and Landon doesn’t downplay the fact that despite all the bells and whistles, he’s making a satisfyingly gory slasher flick which finds horrifically novel uses for a tennis racquet and a Cryogenic chamber (not sure why the school has one of those, but whatever), but where Freaky really impresses is it’s themes of gender, identity and sexuality that despite being presented front an centre – the whole plot involves our heroine literally feeling like she’s in the wrong skin – it never once swamps or derails the film’s sence of fun by being preachy or out of character.
It’s a truly impressive balancing act that never hides it’s message of acceptance, but isn’t averse to having a jock character, who gets violent after having his drunken, clumsy attempt at a kiss rebuffed by Josh, catch a meat hook in the eye.
What with this and the recent Fear Street Trilogy both enjoying wide releases and featuring diverse characters whose sexual orientations are presented in a way that’s natural and organic, this is yet another hugely enjoyable step to getting more, varied voices getting to tell their tales under the diverse umbrella of genre filmmaking where understanding goes hand in hand with someone getting castrated with a chainsaw…