Writer-director Christopher Landon has a long history working with Blumhouse, first with the Paranormal Activity sequels then with the duo of Happy Death Day horror-comedies. The latter—Happy Death Day 2U in particular—present an intriguing twist on familiar generic ground which I enjoyed quite a bit. It would only make sense, then, that his latest, Freaky, a body-swap horror farce, would tickle my fancy just the same. That was my first thought.
Then, I recalled that Landon also co-wrote and directed Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, a similarly self-aware horror comedy that I found thuddingly underwhelming. Also, I’m not a huge fan of those Paranormal Activity sequels. Turns out my second thought was the better thought.
Freaky reads as a sold-in-the-room pitch. It’s Freaky Friday meets Friday the 13th — high concept heaven. And perhaps there is a cracker jack comedy embedded in here somewhere, one that cleverly mixes the winking genre send-up with the sentimental coming of age arc. As it is on-screen, it just doesn’t feel like anything more than its premise.
For starters, its engagement with genre reads initially as perfunctory and later as tonally at odds with the central premise. An opening set piece establishes the hulking masked killer, one Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), as he makes quick work out of a house of drunk, unsupervised teens. The matter of fact startles and stabs in this sequence read rote, culminating in the Butcher obtaining a totem-like knife. Later, he will use this knife to stab high school senior Millie (Kathryn Newton), triggering the supernatural body swap mayhem. Millie, now in the body of a serial killer, must reunite with her friends, convince them of her true identity, and stop the killer (now in her body) from making mince meat of her entire high school.
Following the establishment of this premise (which takes roughly 30 minutes), slasher tropes are used to show off some nice effects in one or two effectively nasty set pieces. But the script goes out of its way to make the victims of these scenes pointedly unseemly characters, which renders at least two of these violent scenes overly mean-spirited for what is otherwise a farce.
The horror and the comedy clash far too often, and neither are entirely accomplished in their own right, either. At least the hard-R lengths that some set pieces go to will appease the horror crowd. The punchlines, on the other hand, are significantly lacking. The body swap routine does not extend much farther than any other of its ilk, it’s only novelty being the slasher inflection. It all reads underdeveloped, as if the film is actively fighting the idea of reinventing the wheel.
To their credit, Newton and Vaughn settle into their swapped roles by the film’s final act, to the point where they both have a kitschy charm to their performances just before returning to their original roles. All in all, though, the script is filled with jokes I found unsatisfactory, severely limiting the extent to which I could engage with these performances. And in the end these two performers are the glue holding this high concept film together.
As always, thanks for reading!