All slasher movies have gimmicks. If we were to take a stroll through the entire history of the sub-genre, then we would find nothing but silly novelties. Terror Train takes place on a train. The Town that Dreaded Sundown presents itself as a documentary. And in Cherry Falls, the killer does not take a particular interest in the promiscuous. But what would slashers look like without gimmicks? Would that alone make them gimmicks? Luckily, I do not have to answer that question with Freaky. Writer/director Christopher Landon has proven to audiences the value of the gimmick with Happy Death Day, and he continues to do so with this riff on Freaky Friday.
In some ways, this riff feels much more justified. The stakes feel much higher here than in Groundhog Day, as our beloved characters can die for real this time. And naturally, with higher stakes come louder laughs and screams. Sometimes you won’t even be able to tell the difference with a Landon film. He has brought these two worlds of genre together in what might be my favorite film of 2020 and without the irony we have come to expect from post-modern movies like Scream. I do not have anything against irony, but I think that we could all use some sincerity right now from the silver screen.
Freaky follows a teenage outcast named Millie (Kathryn Newton). A seventeen-year-old girl that cannot accessorize to save her life. Try as she might, there is no use helping that girl. And yet, she will always put others before herself. Oftentimes to the point where she forgets to live for herself, and instead vicariously lives through helping her friends and family. Of course, we should all live our lives with empathy, but at what cost? In other words, at what cost do we live our entire lives helping others, without first helping ourselves? Do we fall behind the shadow of those we want to help?
Landon raises an interesting point with Freaky‘s narrative spin, further justifying its “silly gimmick”. Millie may just as well swap identities with a brawny man like the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) because ultimately, she has nothing to say for herself. She has made one too many sacrifices for others, consequently losing her own sense of individuality in the process. If only she could stand her ground, and live a little more selfishly, then she could become the “piece” she has always wanted to be. Lucky for her, sometimes all you need to do is swap bodies with a serial killer to give you an outfit worthy of knocking those boys dead.
As for the kills, Landon does not hold anything back. I was startled by the opening sequence. Usually, I expect directors to cut away the instant that our killers slice and dice. I was wrong. Freaky has a much meaner streak than the other spineless Blumhouse movies of late. Honestly, it really begs the question: did Freaky rip the spine right out of these bloodless excuses for horror? Do these other Blumhouse movies lack any sense of bite because Freaky socked them right in their mouths? Probably. You are in for a treat slasher fans. Your insatiable blood lust will surely be satisfied.
And for those in the audience looking for a good laugh, you will find much to love here too. Vaughn, a 6’5″ mountain of a man, has an impeccable eye for the physical comedy of a teenage girl. Every subtle movement has been given intention and purpose. Surely, a girl in a man’s body would have some trouble walking with big feet. Flirting with a boy half his (her) size. Peeing. I thought Jack Black in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle pushed this type of role to its very limit, but Vaughn manages to carry his own as a total teddy bear.
And although some critics might criticize Freaky for its over-reliance on heavy-handed emotional beats, I felt them perfectly necessary. Usually, I grimace at the thought of them in mainstream horror, but in this day and age of anxiety, I sort of needed them. The dialogue might seem a little stilted. It might seem on the nose. But not once did these moments ever feel like reasons to pad out the runtime. Newton brings so much sincerity and heart here that I am willing to make excuses for a weak script.
I do not know whether I am committing heresy as a critic by admitting excuses for slashers with gimmicks and script problems. But I do know how Freaky made me feel. I have not felt this giddy with a movie since… well, I do not remember. Maybe Emma? When was that again? I digress. I do not need emotional nuance from a silly slasher like Freaky in a year like 2020. Sometimes our needs from the movies are much simpler. My needs are simple. I am not afraid to champion the goofier things in life because if there is one thing 2020 has proven to me, it is that life is far too short for self-seriousness. – Daniel Hrncir
Freaky is now available in theaters.
The film stars Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, and Alan Ruck.