Credit Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton with making the horror/comedy “Freaky” – a mix of “Freaky Friday” and “Friday the 13th – as scary as it is funny. If either had stumbled, the film would have been as dead as a teenager running through the woods from a man with an ax.
The body-swap movie starts with the scariest part of the entire film. The often bullied Millie Kessler (Newton) is trying to survive life at Blissfield High. There’s no bliss for Millie as she has been the constant target of the school’s popular crowd.
It’s sad when high school is the least safe place to be in a town where a serial killer – the Butcher (Vaughn) – is chopping up people like a sushi chef. Once the Butcher shows up at the high school, both nightmare worlds for Millie collide.
The Butcher’s efforts to make Millie his latest victim go terribly wrong because of an ancient ceremonial knife. Instead of killing the teenage girl, the Butcher switches bodies with her. The change works for the Butcher because no one suspects a mousy senior girl as being a cold-blooded killer.
Millie’s new look isn’t working for her. She must find a way to dodge the police and find anyone who can help her break the curse before it is too late.
Vaughn faced the toughest acting challenge. When an older male tries to act like a teenage girl, the results can be embarrassingly bad. The fact Vaughn didn’t push as hard as someone like Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler would have done means he was able to suggest a young spirit trapped in an old body without it looking silly or over the top.
He gets help selling the character through Celeste O’Connor who plays the super socially aware Nyla, Misha Osherovich as Millie’s gay friend Joshua and Uriah Shelton as Millie’s love interest Booker. The three accept the odd body swap a little too quickly but there was no need to bog the film down with long moments of acceptance.
Time was better spent letting them supply some of the funnier moments such as Joshua saying that because he is gay and Nyla is black, they were certainly doomed to die. That is a very funny commentary on what traditionally happens in a horror movie.
Newton’s acting challenge was not as difficult but just as important. She does a good job of both playing Millie as the mistreated teen and as the heartless killer. It was a smart move to give her limited dialogue as the Butcher because Newton can sell evil with a simple look.
“Freaky” was written and directed by Christopher Landon who used the same smart blend of dark humor and gruesome violence to make “Happy Death Day” so much fun. He has created a story that works because it both takes the horror genre seriously and also has no problem poking fun at all of the tropes.
The biggest mistake Landon and his writing partner, Michael Kennedy, make is giving into the clichéd surprising ending gambit. Makers of horror films love to have one more twist before the final credits and in this case it completely fails.
A lot of leeway is given to horror films especially when it comes to who is really dead. But, there has to be at least a thin line of plot to get to such an ending. In “Freaky,” the last sequence comes across more like a scene that had been cut and accidentally got left in the film.
The faulty ending is a mistake but not big enough to hurt the overall production. A fun and smart story coupled with strong work by Vaughn and Newton makes for a final project that is a killer attack on your funny bone.
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Alan Ruck. Katie Finneran.
Director: Christopher Landon
Rated: R for graphic violence, sexual content, language
Running time: 112 minutes.