Coming out right after the Halloween season for reasons completely unknown to me, here comes Freaky, the latest Blumhouse offering that takes a spin on some of the usual horror tropes and turns them into what should be enticing horror-comedy brew. The adventure-tinted horror-comedy is something that has only recently come back into fashion with films like Happy Death Day (written by longtime comics scribe Scott Lobdell) and its sequel, but hearkens back to the nascent days of the mid-80’s when jagged, but fun romps like Waxwork, The Monster Squad, and Chopping Mall were taking up the butt-end of your local theater. After years of grim riffs on Saw, The Ring, Insidious, and whatever other horror trends were in fashion for the bulk of the new millennium, it’s rather fun to see something more rip-roaring occupy these spaces.
Freaky is, as the name suggestions, a horror riff on the Freaky Friday concept. Timed to release on Friday the 13th (which is a device that the film pays some lip service to, but is more or less window dressing), Freaky focuses on high-schooler Millie (Kathryn Newton), your typical very pretty girl who is somehow not popular at all and bullied incessantly. So it goes in these things! One night, after Millie parts from her friends Nyla (Celese O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) after a football game, she comes face to face with The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), who attacks and stabs her with a ceremonial ancient knife, which creates the unintended effect of a body switch between the two of them. Murderous hijinks ensue!
It’s honestly a pretty good premise, and for its first 45 minutes or so, a viewer can coast along on that sheer momentum alone. Who doesn’t want to see how Vaughn’s grimy serial killer reacts now that he’s in the body of a teenage girl? Or how that same girl deals with waking up in the body of a very bad man indeed? Not only does Freaky play with the classic body switch comedy, but it also pulls on a not so subtle riff on late 90’s makeover films like She’s All That, when the now murderous Millie returns to school after attack with a new outlook and a new fashion sense. On balance, it’s a film that is basically predicated on a cool idea, but proving the rule that an idea simply isn’t enough to get you across the finish line.
Freaky’s biggest issue is that, for a comedy, it’s just not very funny. Christopher Landon, a director who is now a bit of a go-to for Blumhouse after the success of the aforementioned Happy Death Day films, is certainly trying his best to be a bit of a minor Carpenter/Craven with brightly lit suburban environments, a broadly played cast, and the same sense of widescreen hyper-reality that occupied their best work in the genre. But those are just aesthetic pleasures, and the further along you take the journey that Landon leads you upon, the more tedious it gets. From increasingly incidental plotting, particularly in the back half, to dialogue that plays like a middle aged man’s impression of “what Zoomers talk like”, the ardor of the film turns colder with each successive scene. And it’s hard to not think how much good material that could have been mined from the premise was left on the cutting room floor, or just never was in play at all.
After the big switch happens, there’s pleasure in watching both Newton and Vaughn get a chance to dalliance on the margins of how their alternate characters would manifest. But much like last year’s Shazam!, there’s a dissonance between the protagonist and the transformed version of her that doesn’t totally ring true – Vaughn is playing his own version of the teenager, totally apart from Newton’s performance. That’s not to say Vaughn, much like Zachary Levi, isn’t a lot of fun to watch as he angles to portray a shy woman within the body of a man approaching his 50’s; he’s actually the one thing about Freaky that keeps it somewhat worth watching. Vaughn has had a bit of an odd career path in recent years having finally escaped much of the sub-Apatow bro-comedy slum into far more fascinating and enticing work like his recent efforts with S. Craig Zahler, but Freaky finds him reacquitting himself nicely to more populist fare, and is perhaps the only reason to pay the price of admission.
It’s heart is absolutely in the right place, and there’s some decent amount solid blood and guts for the gorehounds (if you ever wanted to see Cameron from Ferris Bueller meet a gruesome end, now’s your chance), but Freaky is just empty calories of the Doritos variety: largely fine in the immediate sense, but ever so tiresome as you keep eating.