[Beyond Fest Review] A Bloody Blend of Teen Comedy and Gore, 'Freaky' is the Movie We Need Right Now
Way back in 1976, the world first got freaky with Gary Nelson’s Freaky Friday, about a mother and daughter whose personalities get swapped and find themselves living in each other’s body…
…It’s an idea that’s been remade and redone and rehashed numerous times, with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan even stepping into the roles for the 2003 version. You could argue the idea has been done to death. But it’s never slayed the way it does with the latest rendition, Freaky, which had its World Premiere at Beyond Fest this past Thursday.
Directed by Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day) and written by Landon and Michael Kennedy (their first feature), Freaky takes what’s come before and puts a killer spin on it, following a teen girl named Millie (Kathryn Newton) who switches bodies not with her single-mother (Katie Finneran), but with a masked killer known as The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), after he stabs her with a mystical dagger and then decides to use his new “murder Barbie” body to slice and dice his way through their “hello neighbor”, boring old Midwest type of town, Bliss Field, leaving Millie with just 24 hours to reclaim the dagger, stab…herself…and get her body back.
And you thought your high school experience was rough.
Freaky has all of the fun energy of Happy Death Day, taking a cue from horror comedies like Saturday the 14th and opening with spooky, superimposed lettering letting us know that it is Wednesday the 11th (guess which day Freaky ends on?). We find our typical group of teens smoking, boning, and doing everything they can to attract the legendary Butcher, who does indeed show up like a force of nature, dispatching everyone in extraordinarily brutal (and hilarious) fashion, before conveniently making off with a magical dagger before the parents arrive home and find their daughter a little more dead than they left her, ala Scream.
Moments of absurd convenience or just plain absurdity are littered all throughout, posing questions like, why does this school have a cryo chamber, but the answer is always “who the hell cares, this B is a blast”!
The callbacks to other slasher films are also endless, but done in ways that never feel overt or as if Landon is winking at us. Instead, slasher villains of old creep into the film in more subtle ways, such as The Butcher’s eerie mask, a combination of Jason’s flat hockey mask with the blank ghostliness of Michael Myers. The Butcher also employs an arsenal of favorite slasher villain weapons, with everything from Michael Myers’ butcher knife to Leatherface’s chainsaw and even the Fisherman’s hook from I Know What You Did Last Summer. The film does this with a love and adoration for the films that came before it, without ever poking fun at the genre.
Like The Butcher though, who doesn’t have much in the way of any unique lore, Millie herself is our pretty basic hero, and it’s only in this area that Freaky is flawed. Millie has all of the trappings of our typical final girl. Shy. Trouble at home with an alcoholic mother. She’s the “nerdy” girl, bullied by Ryler (Melissa Collazo), who dares to say Millie’s outfit looks like it came from a discount store, to which I say kill her now, and she also suffers from a cruel, teenage crush on the studly Booker (Uriah Shelton), whom she leaves anonymous love poems for. Millie hides herself from everyone, comfortable behind a mask as the school Beaver mascot, no matter how much her entertaining but underdeveloped friends Misha Osherovich and Celeste O’Connor tell her she’s wonderful.
Basic white girl hero aside, Freaky stands out in a time where we are so desperately starved for teen horror that lets the audience just sit back and have a good laugh. Freaky is more similar to the tone of Freaky Friday than it is the slasher films it seeks to homage. The comedy is standard fare for this kind of movie, with Butcher/Millie admiring their hot new body and Millie/Butcher laughing as they whip around their “anteater” of a penis, but it works because Vaughn and Newton slip smoothly into the roles of the other with an attractive charm. Newton is especially electric to watch as she’s clearly having a blast kicking ass, taking names and looking fashionable as fuck while doing it. For a middle-aged maniac, The Butcher sure does have an eye for style. But really, don’t all slasher villains, in one way or another?
As for the hard R part of this film, when Happy Death Day released, the primary complaint from horror fans was that, for a slasher, it wasn’t nearly bloody enough. Well, Landon heard you, because Freaky lets its freak flag fly. Bodies are split in half. The crotches of rapey males are made an example of. And a champagne bottle is used in the most creative way I’ve ever seen on film. Freaky has the kind of over-the-top splatter that makes an audience cheer. Constantly. In a brief video just before our screening at the drive-in, Newton said her favorite part of making Freaky was getting bloody, and oh does she ever. Butcher/Millie is soaked in the stuff by the end of this film, a maniacal grin plastered on their face.
More important than the gore and laughs though is one special moment that might end up being the thing many of us remember the most from this film. During a scene with Millie/Butcher and Booker, the two share a tender moment in which Booker does not hesitate for a second to look past the middle-aged maniac with rotten teeth body that Millie is wearing, and instead sees the person on the inside. It’s a beautiful moment reminding us that love is love. There are so many stories out there of someone fearing that their partner will no longer love them because they identify with another sex. Fear of any kind of acceptance can be devastating, especially when it means potentially losing someone you love. A moment of easy acceptance like this is something you’d never see even just ten years ago, and it means the world that it’s on the big screen.
The Butcher also gets to do a little self-examining in enjoying being female. Freaky is a wonderfully diverse film with progressive themes that we need to see more of in horror.
At a time where we constantly feel on the verge of societal collapse and have leaders that push hatred over acceptance, Freaky is the warm splash of blood we need right now. Relatable teens and a relentless positivity make this the perfect horror film for a younger crowd wanting a few laughs, while the jaw-dropping gore will satisfy even the most seasoned horror vet. Freaky is a film for everyone.
As a Bears fan though, automatic point deduction for the inclusion of an Aaron Rodgers mask. If there’s a sequel, fingers crossed they flip that smug jerk face inside out.
By Matt Konopka
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