Life & Style Editor Julia Lee reviews Christopher Landon’s latest comedy-horror Freaky, a modern and entertaining take on the classic body-swap story
Content Warning: Contains descriptions of graphic violence.
‘You’re black, I’m gay – we are so dead!’ This line from the Freaky trailer released back in September 2020 had many of us hooked immediately – after months of waiting, it delivered. Writer and director Christopher Landon’s style is apparent in this film, Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U carrying a similar tone. Like his previous films that take Groundhog Day’s premise for a murderous spin, Landon’s newest offering takes on that of the body swap.
Using a mystical dagger he stole in a previous killing spree, the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) inadvertently switches bodies with high schooler Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton). The Butcher continues to kill while Millie races to reclaim her body before it is too late. Bookended by a thrilling prologue and epilogue, all scenes in the film are purposeful and enjoyable.
The film’s name Freaky calls back to the 1972 book Freaky Friday (which inspired the 2000s classic of the same name starring Lindsay Lohan) with a slasher twist. Millie’s body is a frail, anxiety-ridden teenage girl. The Butcher’s body on the other hand, is a tall, strong man. Contrary to the story’s usual message of empathy, Freaky delves into how differently people in different bodies experience the world. In Millie’s body, the Butcher, while physically weaker, is able to avoid suspicion, even weaponising his unassuming appearance to lure in his prey. Millie needs to disguise herself, but confesses that she ‘[feels] oddly empowered in [the Butcher’s] body’ in a touching scene with her crush Booker (Uriah Shelton).
Much like its body-swapping predecessors, Freaky exploits the comedic potential of the subgenre while elevating it. The gender switch could easily have made up the bulk of the comedy. This one instead highlights the unnecessary connection between physicality and gender – Millie’s innate sense of self is delightfully and casually affirmed by her friends Booker, Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich). The distinct queerness of this film is a welcome surprise.
In addition to her personal journey, Millie’s family receives its own arc. The lingering emptiness in the house is acutely felt even before we know of her father’s death. The family is unable to move on, Millie’s mother Coral (Katie Finneran) copes with alcohol, her sister Charlene (Dana Drori) with work, and Millie by withdrawing further into herself. The Kesslers feel like complete characters despite their limited screen time, their strengthening as a unit throughout the film subtle yet genuine.
Freaky has its fair share of gore, some bordering on ridiculous, like a tennis racket rammed through the head like a spit. A scene’s setting is taken advantage of not only as creative ways to kill off characters, but also to paint some incredible pictures. Millie hiding from the Butcher in the darkened bleachers illuminated by only the orange-tinted streetlights, a tense chase through the neon mazes of a mini-golf course, even the Butcher’s lair with its cracked windows and dead animals hanging from their tails- there is more to look at in this film than just blood and guts. Composer Bear McCreary’s soundtrack complements it perfectly.
Contemporary teen protagonists are notoriously difficult to write convincingly, but it is clear that the writers of Freaky really understood teenage dynamics, and so are able to riff on them with (relative) success. Vaughn, while looking the part of the stereotypical serial killer, had great on-screen chemistry with the young cast, their friendships readily believable. Newton’s acting likewise sells that she’s an unpopular outcast as Millie and ruthlessly aloof as the Butcher.
There are some plot contrivances mainly in the form of fantastical elements, the convenient object that facilitated the body swap being the most prominent. However, it is a necessary and forgivable aspect of the film. The dagger ‘La Dola’ serves as an adequate MacGuffin our heroes have to retrieve to make the switch. In a refreshing turn, characters in Freaky use search engines and social media to their advantage, managing to bypass the at times frustrating way contemporary thrillers disregard modern tools.
This and the dash of pop culture references place Freaky firmly in the current day. Any such references could also be easily read as cringey or ironic depending on perspective. Some may say it will age badly, or perhaps already has, but being identifiable as a film from the late 2010s/early 2020s adds to its potential as a cult classic.
Freaky is about Millie finding that she can feel strong in her body too, and even more so with friends and family by her side. Though it may not be for everyone, it ticks all the boxes for its genre. It is snappy enough to maintain even the shortest attention spans, with the added bonus of some gorgeous cinematography. While Freaky was unable to make its Friday the 13th release in the UK, it makes up for the fact by being a great film to enjoy year-round.
Freaky is out now in cinemas.
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