Vince Vaughn as Barney Calvin Garris / the Blissfield Butcher
Kathryn Newton as Millie Kessler
Katie Finneran as Paula Kessler
Celeste O’Connor as Nyla
Alan Ruck as Mr. Fletcher
Misha Osherovich as Josh
Uriah Shelton as Booker
Co-Written & Directed by Christopher Landon; Co-Written by Michael Kennedy
Even before breaking out with the hit Happy Death Day films, writer/director Christopher Landon was showing his chops blending the horror and comedy genres together with a satirical bite in the highly-underrated Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, and now he is back with another genre mashup with the body-swapping Freaky, and though it may underwhelm in much of its story and some of its dialogue, it still proves to be a damn fun and bloody good time.
Tormented high school student Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) becomes the newest target of Barney Garris (Vince Vaughn), an infamous serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher, during her senior year. When the killer’s magic dagger causes her to swap bodies with him, Millie discovers she has only one day to reverse the switch before it becomes permanent. Hunted by the police, who are determined to catch the infamous Butcher, Millie must find Barney, who is using her body to target her classmates at Homecoming.
Body swapping is a concept used for a number of genres over the years, but very rarely in the world of horror, save for the end twist of the so-so hoodoo thriller The Skeleton Key or films regarding possession, one could try and argue, so for Landon to have realized this and bring his own unique flavor to the film is a treat. Much like American Horror Story mastermind Ryan Murphy, there’s a certain tongue-in-cheek and self-aware tone that permeates from Landon’s projects of late that consistently entertains, from over-the-top characters you love to watch to meta commentary that never feels too on-the-nose, and Freaky mostly encapsulates this wonderful atmosphere, save for a couple of key things.
First is in Misha Osherovich’s character of Josh, the flamboyant gay friend of Newton’s Millie. Throughout the film, the extraness of Josh is supposed to act as a comedic relief and though he delivers a number of killer jokes and heartwarming moments throughout, namely struggling to deal with his sexually-repressed small-town classmates and making meta commentary of their situations. The problem, however, is that there are multiple moments in the film in which he loses a feeling or grounded authenticity and becomes an annoying caricature, which feels groan-worthy and hampers his more interesting scenes and development.
Another of the film’s major problems is simply in the story itself, which feels as though it’s building up to a major conclusion and party-based massacre that the slasher genre has seen time again, but in an effort to subvert expectations, every time Landon begins to slam his foot down on the pedal for killing fun, he decides to hit the brakes and reel it back in. There are a number of times in which the film feels like it’s ramping up for all-out mayhem and with its body-swapping premise it absolutely should, but instead becomes a game of cat-and-mouse between Millie and Barney that’s not nearly as compelling as the all-out gorefest it occasionally becomes.
Despite these issues, however, the film is able to mostly overcome them thanks to its strongest elements. After deliver back-to-back PG-13 outings, Landon returns to the R-rating in full force, delivering some genuinely shocking and exciting kills that left me laughing out of sheer surprise at the deaths that have occurred. The performances from the cast are all superb, namely Newton and Vaughn, the latter of whom delivers his best comedic performance in years while also doing a great job of tapping into the chilling side of his serial killer nature.
Freaky may not take full advantage of its promising concept and may let down its interesting characters in some moments, it proves to be another smart, thrilling and hilarious effort from Christopher Landon that sees the writer/director quickly approaching becoming the next John Carpenter or Wes Craven.