No stranger to shaking up the horror genre, Happy Death Day director Christopher Landon is back with another mashup, taking a tried and true Hollywood formula — the body swap comedy — and running it through the gore-soaked filter of 80s slasher films. The result is Freaky, a hilarious blend of mirth and murder with plenty of bloody, ridiculously over-the-top kills to please genre fans, and a surprisingly earnest emotional core.
When a notorious serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) savagely massacres a group of teenagers a few days before homecoming, the town is on full alert — but awkward, frequently bullied Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) breaks a number of cardinal rules: she’s alone late at night in the empty parking lot of her high school, with nary another human being in sight. She might as well hang a neon sign around her neck that says “stab me,” because the Butcher shows up to do just that, wielding an intricately carved dagger of mysterious origins. But when he plunges the weapon into Millie’s shoulder, something strange happens — he’s afflicted with a wound in the exact same spot, and collapses in pain.
Fast forward to the next morning, and even stranger things are afoot: Millie has awoken in the Butcher’s body, and vice versa. While the seasoned stalker immediately recognizes the advantage of masquerading as a high school student, Millie is forced to grapple with the ungainliness of the significantly larger frame in which she now finds herself. Complicating matters is the circulation of a police sketch, which has everyone in town keeping an eye out for a 6’5″ male that matches Millie’s (current) description — while the Butcher is able to blend in among the other students, Millie can’t exactly keep a low profile while wandering around in the body of a wanted murderer.
Much of Freaky‘s humor is derived from the inherent physical differences both of its main characters are forced to cope with: accustomed to his typical hulking frame, the Butcher finds his new teenage form severely lacking in the strength department. Meanwhile, Millie can’t seem to go more than a few minutes without smacking her head on an overhang or clumsily injuring someone — but she’s also enamored with some of the new anatomy at her disposal. “Standing and peeing is kind of rad,” she announces from a restroom stall. “This thing is like a floppy anteater.”
It’s been awhile since Vaughn has opted for something so overtly silly, but with Freaky he relishes the opportunity to ham it up as a grown man playing host to the consciousness of an insecure teenager of the opposite sex. Conversations with Millie’s closest confidants Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) — both of whom Vaughn towers over — are rife with hilarity, but while Landon’s script sets up plenty of big laughs, he adopts a more sincere, straightforward approach to a pair of key scenes. The first finds Millie (in the Butcher’s body) having a heart-to-rate with her mom, using the anonymity of her new identity to be more honest than she ever could as herself, while the other sees her pouring out her feelings for longtime crush Booker (Uriah Shelton) in a scene that feels especially genuine, given that it features Vaughn giggling and shifting uncomfortably as he flirts with a handsome teenage boy.
Elsewhere, Newton dials the attitude up to eleven, donning a red leather jacket and permanent glower as she indulges in the Butcher’s insatiable need for bloodletting. Several of Millie’s regular tormentors are on the list of potential victims, including gossipy queen bee Ryler (Melissa Collazo) and grouchy shop teacher Mr. Fletcher (Alan Ruck), and nearly every kill is comically gruesome. As such, Freaky offers very little in the way of genuine scares, with Landon seeming more content to embrace slasher tropes rather than attempt to subvert them too much. And that’s fine: the mashup of two distinctly different genres is subversion enough, and Freaky emerges as Landon’s best offering yet.