The endearing legacy of Freaky Friday has always been a bit perplexing. While there is humour to be had in watching two individuals swap bodies and attempt to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, there is only so much milage the story has to offer. For proof of this one needs to look no further than Christopher Landon’s entertaining horror comedy Freaky.
Offering an amusing and bloody twist on the classic body swapping genre, Freaky tells the story of a high school student, Millie (Kathryn Newton), who magically wakes up in the body of the serial killer, The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), that attempted to kill her hours earlier. Once considered an urban legend, The Butcher’s latest killing spree has placed Millie’s whole town on high alert. Complicating things further is the fact that no one even knows what the masked murder even looks like. Those unfortunate enough to encounter him usually do not live to tell the tale.
By all accounts Millie should have met the same fate. An average teen low on the social ladder, when not being bullied by the head mean girl or her own wood shop teacher, she longs to forge her own path. Unfortunately, her concerns for her alcoholic mother, who is still unable to cope with her husband’s death a year earlier, keeps Millie from fully spreading her own wings. The only difference between her and The Butcher’s other victims is that he unknowingly stabbed her with an ancient knife. As legend has it, the knife is meant to be used for ritual sacrifice. If the intended sacrifice survives then they will switch bodies with their attacker.
Given less then nine hours to reverse the spell, Millie and her friends race to locate both The Butcher and the knife before she is permanently stuck in the body of a killer.
Landon has carved out a nice space for himself in the horror comedy genre. As he has shown with the amusing Happy Death Day, he knows how to bring unique spins to established genre tropes. Freaky continues this trend, though it is not quite as successful as his previous works. While it is fun observing Vaughn getting in touch with his inner teenage girl and Newton channeling the stone- cold killers of 80’s slasher films, one is always aware of the cinematic nods Landon is evoking. Everything from Friday the 13th to She’s All That is playfully referenced, but without the air of creativity needed to make the tropes his own.
While a film like Scream found a way to reinvent the slasher genre while still playing within the rules of it, Freaky never strives to be anything more than a silly romp. Outside of a few sharp moments, such as The Butcher realizing he no longer has his usual strength once in Millie’s body and must learn to kill in more creative ways, the film often opts for easy gags. As much as Freaky takes several jabs at the politically correct teenage culture of today, it has nothing intelligent to say about it. For all the times characters call out the problematic speech of others, the film ultimately feels as if it is geared to the same juvenile jocks we are meant to hate within it.
By keeping everything on a surface level, the film inadvertently exposes how limiting its premise is. There is simply not enough room to both explore the characters and set up the elaborate deaths. Fortunately, the kills are so entertaining that one still feels satisfied when certain individuals get their comeuppance. In “Crafting the Kills”, one of the Blu-ray’s bonus features, one gets a behind the scenes look at how the “wood shop” scene, arguably the best moment in the film, was constructed.
Freaky might not live up to its full potential, but there is enough here to satisfy those who like their comedy a little bloody.
Bonus Features: Deleted Scenes, Split Personalities: Millie vs. The Butcher, Crafting the Kills, Christopher Landon’s Brand of Horror, Final Girl Reframed, Feature Commentary with Co-writer/Director Christopher Landon