Freaky

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.

Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson and his cast and crew, deliver what I want in a movie in this amazing true story of a conscientious objector who shows more courage than seems humanly possible. That World War Two is still ripe with stories to tell, more than seventy years after it ended should not be a surprise. Sixteen million Americans had a part to play in the conflict at one point or another, so there have got to be many stories still to tell. Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss certainly deserves to have his story told and boy what a story it is. War is the ultimate location for violent conflict to be depicted, and there is certainly no shortage of violence here. Before the crux of the story appears however, we have the background to get through and a love story to tell.

Andrew Garfield has been a successful young actor in prestige pictures like “The Social Network” and in popcorn films like the rebooted “Spiderman” series. Based on the results so far, he should stick to the dramas and skip comic book films for a while. His earnest face and sweet voice seem made for a film like this. He portrays a kid who comes from a hardscrabble family background but one who is steeped in religious beliefs. After some strong experiences with violence himself, he moves to a true pacifist belief system, rooted in his Seventh Day Adventist dogma. Desmond Doss comes across as a naive but incredibly sincere waif who is confronting the greatest upheaval in violence in human history, with little more than a smile and an aw shucks attitude.  That this film and the story it depicts don’t get laughed at is a credit to the script and the actor who plays the part. Gibson does not over do the religious themes but he does give Doss the chance to express how deeply his faith motivates him, well before he becomes battle tested. That is why his accomplishment is all the more credible to us (in spite of the fact that is is based in reality). There is only one moment of histrionics when Doss punches a wall in frustration. The rest of his determined approach is shown through his willingness to fight on without using violence. to be able to make what he sees as a moral contribution to the war on his side.

 

Earlier this year, Teresa Palmer was not that memorable in “Lights Out” , she is much more believable as a 1940s nurse who catches the eye of our hero than she was as the tattooed rebel in the ghost story. She and Garfield form a strong emotional backbone that helps justify our interest in his character and how he manages to cope in the face of overwhelming violence. I imagine there were a great many men who fought in the war who manged to get through the traumas they saw by keeping the hope of love alive in their hearts. Although Doss had a contentious relationship with his father, there is also a family at home that wants him to be safe as well. The personal sacrifice that his mentally scarred father makes to allow Desmond to serve was one of the noble elements of the film. I don’t know how accurate it was but I can say how effective it was in the movie. Hugo Weaving gets a chance to play a flawed man who  is driven by his tragic experiences in the Great War.  It is not a large character part in the film but it may be the most real person Weaving has ever played in a movie and he was wonderful. There is a line of dialogue that he speaks which will cause a shudder of fear and pride at the same moment.

Flavor of the month eight years ago, Sam Worthington, finally shows that he is an actor as well as a face. Every moment he was on screen reminded me of character actor Ed Lauter, and that is a good thing my friends. Vince Vaughn is maybe a little harder to accept because of roles he has played in the past, but I was able to see past the face and recognize a solid performance in a part that is still a great deal of cliche. All of the other actors seem credible and the usual diversity of characters shows up on the screen, but it never feels like it is a stereotypical WWII film. Gibson has directed bloody action/battle sequences before. There are many shots here that will match “Saving Private Ryan” for brutal honesty and cinematic shock. Anyone tempted to think that they go on for too long should remember that the real events went days and offered no opportunity for a soft drink or a bathroom break. The battle of Okinawa as shown here was hard fought and vicious. That the result helped end the war and Americans managed to return home and lead decent lives is also miraculous.

Frankly, I have said it before on numerous occasions in these posts, I am a sentimentalist who wants to be moved by the stories I see in the theater. This story and the film makers moved me in the way I think a film should. They tell an ennobling story with craftsmanship and passion. The actors convince me that I am glimpsing something proximate to the events being depicted. I leave the theater buoyed by the fact that in the world, there are people who have stories like this and there are film makers who can tell these kind of stories. When this film is the subject of awards speculation in a future post, maybe I will spend more time talking about technique. Right now I am simply grateful once again to the greatest generation and satisfied that the talent behind this film have done them credit.