Freaky (2020)

OCTOBER 8, 2020


One weird thing about me is how much of a sucker I am for body swap movies. Even the ones most people downright loathe, such as Like Father Like Son and The Change-Up, I will not only defend but also watch whenever I happen upon them on cable, and same goes for just about any of the others in this niche sub-genre, no matter how silly. So given that Freaky is a cross between one and a slasher film (apparently the original title was "Freaky Friday the 13th", which could have been the entire pitch), it shouldn't be much of a surprise that I really liked it, and am almost sad that it will be coming out next month when theaters still won't be open everywhere, because it's the sort of movie that could make a ton of money and help the slasher genre's fortunes.

But for those who WILL get to see it on a big screen and with (25% of) a full crowd, I trust you'll have a blast. The film's R rating ensures that the kills have the blood you demand from such things, and while it's obviously not a whodunit, Vince Vaughn's masked killer strikes a legit slasher image - if you showed someone a still of him in the opening scene as he wipes out a handful of typical partying teens, they'd probably assume it was from a straightforward body count flick (it's a bit Leslie Vernon meets human Jason Voorhees). It's almost a shame the mask is MIA after the opening, in fact - they did a great job with it! And it checks all the boxes of a body swap movie too; there are the obligatory "hey this ain't so bad" moments and fun attempts to convince someone else of what's going on, all with an R-rated attitude (most were PG of course) and the same "irreverent but with heart" appeal that made Christopher Landon's Happy Death Day such a winner.

Our hero is Millie (Kathryn Newton, who joins Landon in completing their Paranormal Activity 4 penance), a timid senior who has two friends and not much else; her father died a year before and left her kind of shattered (her mom turned to booze and isn't much of a comfort eithe). It's one of those strange casting choices where a very attractive woman is given messy hair in order to justify the "ew" taunts and attacks thrown her way from the bullies and jocks (one even goes so far as to say he'd need to put a bag over her head to have sex with her), but at least the "she's not popular" concept is made clear quickly enough - Landon and co-writer Michael Kenney only have so much time to etablish her world and that Vaughn's "Blissfield Butcher" before getting to the fun stuff, and they handle it all quite well as long as you can go along with the idea Millie would somehow be considered ugly in this world.

Anyway one night after her drunk mom forgets to pick her up after the game (she's the team's mascot, perhaps a nod to the killer's getup in HDD), Vaughn comes along eager to try out his new weapon, a strange dagger he found in the opening sequence. But sure enough, it's a MAGIC dagger that causes the two to swap bodies when he stabs her with it (in the shoulder), which instantly causes him to feel the pain instead. The next morning, the murderer wakes up in a girl's body in a suburban home with a mom offering fresh pancakes while a teenaged girl wakes up in the body of a grown man (a murderer at that) in an old mill surrounded by body parts and a meth addict offering oral pleasure in exchange for the drugs he assumes his friend is on.

It's an interesting dynamic for the body swap movie, because usually the two people are related in some way, and can instantly see each other and go through the "OK well we have to play along until we figure this out" kind of routine. Here the two wake up in entirely different worlds, and obviously can't just meet up and exchange notes on how to behave. Plus, while Millie obviously wants to get her body back (despite enjoying the freedom of peeing standing up and having the strength to retaliate against bullies), the Butcher (never given a real name, if I recall) sees no real drawbacks to the situation - he can blend in with his usual targets while everyone else looks for a very tall male (the attack on Millie resulted in a sketch artist rendering that's plastered everywhere). Usually they have to spend a chunk of the movie figuring out how to swap back - here they figure it out pretty early on but one party isn't interested in actually doing it.

And naturally there's a time limit (24 hours!) before the swap becomes permanent, so it's up to Vaughn-Millie and Millie's two friends to race around town to retrieve the dagger and subdue Newton-Butcher, all while avoiding the police and townsfolk who point and yell "BUTCHER!" wherever they go while the young girl gets to just coast right past the fracas. This keeps the movie almost breathlessly paced as the clock is always ticking and they can't ever stop for long. Meanwhile, the Butcher - who doesn't discern his victims, it seems - inadvertently gets to make Millie's life better since her usual antagonists (a mean girl, a horrible shop teacher played by Alan Ruck, etc) see her and say something awful, setting him off while keeping them disarmed because to them it's just the usual do-nothing wallflower.

More importantly, the movie gives ample opportunity to show off what a gifted physical actor Vaughn is, as he completely commits to acting like a 17 year old girl even when in the background of some shots. His style of running made me laugh nearly every time, arms flailing JUST the right amount to sell it as "a non-athletic girl" but not so much that it becomes insulting or cartoonish. He also totally sells the way someone in this situation would fight when suddenly given twice the strength they're used to, and he nails even the smaller mannerisms like blushing when a crush sits next to him/her. Newton sadly doesn't get to do that same kind of mimicry as often; being a hulking slasher the Butcher obviously doesn't have too much of personality for her to copy, but she sells the menace well enough in the scenes where the Butcher inside her is going at it full force.

I don't have too much to say on the matter but here I'd like to give a special shout-out to Bear McCreary for his Manfredini-tinged score. The "Freaky Friday the 13th" thing isn't subtle - the movie starts with a WEDNESDAY THE 11TH on-screen prompt, complete with the F13 font, so they obviously want to make sure we know it's intentional, and McReary's score just helps further that along. That said, it's otherwise thankfully free of references and homages to slashers of yore; apart from an obligatory note of Black people's survival chances (sigh), it follows Happy Death Day's lead of proving the people who said Scream effectively killed the notion of doing a slasher again. As with that film, if you put the sci-fi/comedy elements aside the slasher stuff all works perfectly well and straight, without any need for irony or self-reflexive comedy. The titles and score are only seen/heard by the audience; the characters aren't the ones mentioning the Butcher's similarities to Jason or Michael.

Normally this would be the part of the review where I beg you to go see the film in theaters, but alas I don't want any of you to get sick or risk infecting others if you happen to be an asymptomatic carrier. I think we'd be foolish to trust any vaccine that this administration rushes out (even if it is put out in time for the election like they occasionally claim, presumably to earn a few votes), so please do not go to any traditional theater in the United States if they're even open near you. However it makes for a fine drive-in option; there's not a lot of dark scenes in the film and there was only one moment where I had a little trouble reading a text message (an unimportant one anyway) but I chalk that up more to parking far away than the projection. The only thing I want more than a successful slasher movie is to get my life back someday, and we can't do that if people keep spreading this thing. So please, despite the fact that it's very good and a lot of fun to watch on the big screen (we had brief honks of approval for the big crowd moments), I must urge my fellow Americans to wait for VOD if you can't go to a drive-in on November 13th when it opens. But as for the HMAD readers in other countries, the ones that aren't run by incompetent criminals who only care about themselves? Enjoy!

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. As someone in the UK, we are also in the thrall of narcissistic populists. The main difference is ours are lazy and incompetent whilst yours are genuinely unhinged, makes you wonder which is worse....


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