This is a movie that I enjoyed but wanted to like more than I did. The premise is the main selling point and it is a great one. This is a mashup of body switch comedies like “Freaky Friday” with a traditional slasher film like “Friday the 13th”. Doesn’t that sound fun for horror fans? Then as an added twist the victim body is of the opposite gender, but not a cheerleader, rather it is a girl who is underappreciated and struggling with self esteem issues and grief. There is a pattern here if you look closely at the film’s pedigree.
The writer/director of this film is Christopher Landon, who previously brought us “Happy Deathday” both 1 and 2. I was not a big fan of the first movie and never saw the second. The one thing that made “Happy Deathday” unique was the redemption arc of the lead character. “Freaky” tries to replicate that formula by making this a story of empowerment in two contradictory ways. First, the nebish girl gets a makeover when her body is occupied by the serial killer. Now I know that this is a fantasy comedy and we have to suspend a lot of disbelief in the first place, but the conundrum here is one of the writers own making. By taking shortcuts in the storytelling to hook us in, he sacrifices opportunities for humor and internal logic. The killer, known as the Blissfield Butcher, has been written as a mindless hulking transient with severe hygiene issues and maybe a drug problem. So how does it make sense that he would have a stronger fashion eye and makeup skills than the teen girl whose body he is occupying? If the killer were more Hannibal Lector than Jason Voorhees, this could work. The writer just wants us to go with it. The teen girl Millie, does get a little more sensible transition, marveling in being able to urinate standing up and turning her nose up at the smell emminating from her new body. The second way the story plays up the female empowerment is by letting her revel in her newly aquired strength.
Serial killer in the girls body, ends up taking revenge on the girls tormentors, with just the slightest amount of reason to limit it to those figures. If the story let it play out more this would be ok, as it is, it feels a bit rushed and coincidental. Meanwhile, the parallel story of our hero trapped in the hulking body of the maniac does work itself out a little better with trying to connect with her friends at school to get some help. Finding yourself romantically and in your relationship with you mother is a little harder to believe. This is the personal growth story which is supposed to add some weight to the story. I think it clutters up the horror and only occasionally adds to the humor.
Vince Vaughn is the star of the film rightly so, because he has to personify a character. Unfortunately, Kathryn Newton doesn’t get as much to do after the switch. She is believable in the pre switch section, but merely stares aggressively in the main part of the story, because the serial killer, while having a fashion sense, has no personality or character traits.
OK, enough with the thoughtful insights, the movie does have two or three pretty gruesome murders to keep us engaged as horror fans. The Opening section that sets up the supernatural twist, has some graphic violence but also a touch of humor. The cocked head of the killer after pinning a victim to the wall is right out of “Halloween” and was subsequently used in some of the Friday the 13th films. Two effective murders are basically spoiled by the trailer, but the buzzsaw sequence still shocks because of It’s graphic depiction.
There is a coda section that is meant to drive the female empowerment theme home at the end. It makes sense only because we know that the killer always has an extra scene in the conclusions of these sorts of films. It would mean more if the killer had motivations or some background character, but all he has is the conventions of the genre.
So my reaction is similar to the feelings I had about the earlier film, but where that story made the redemption work a little, it simply feels shoehorned into this film. The movie has enough going for it to make a trip to a theater, but it will quickly fade as other better executed horror/comedy mashups come along.