Everything but a Saturday the 14th joke.
Withdrawn after her father’s death from a year before, Millie (Kathryn Newton) keeps her head down, trying to make it through her senior year of high school and looking forward to putting everything behind her. Waiting for a ride alone after a football game, Millie becomes the latest potential victim of the terrifying-yet-cliché Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), but the ornate knife he stabs her with inexplicably wounds himself as well. With the botched murder interrupted, both Millie and the Butcher awaken the next morning feeling a little shaken… and their souls swapped into one another’s bodies. While Millie is desperate to find anyone she can convince as to what’s happened to her, the Butcher leverages his opportunity to increase the body count among Millie’s unsuspecting classmates.
From the writer and director of Blumhouse surprise hit Happy Death Day, Christopher Landon has carved out a special place in the genre: reinventing the horror-comedy by mixing in some much-needed heart. Juggling complex characters, clever concepts, and a bevy of fan-worthy Easter eggs, these films strike a unique balance between scream-worthy setups and heartfelt stories that too rarely end up in the same films together. While the sequel Happy Death Day 2U veered toward sci-fi and away from the first film’s bloody fun, can this Freaky Friday horror homage wallow in gore the same way Death Day did cribbing from its Groundhog Day inspiration?
Fans of the slasher genre will run out of fingers and toes trying to keep up with all of Freaky’s genre references. From Jason Voorhees to Michael Myers and even a little Candyman, “The Butcher” trades up from one scene to the next; even Millie’s makeover seems to emulate Kristanna Loken’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machine character. Newton’s tenure on The CW’s “Supernatural” proves she was up for the physical challenges, but the real surprise is Vaughn’s turn playing a petite blonde inflicted with a monster physique. More intent on entertaining than making a statement, Freaky gleefully hits all the high-note screams in a semi-grounded story that earns its winks at the audience.
Arguably the most self-aware slasher since Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, no iniquity goes unpunished, but it’s interesting the body count goes against actual convention. Even in horror films lacking a Final Girl, it isn’t just the biggest offenders being over-punished, yet writer Landon ensures only the irredeemable get offed due to their own chutzpah. Given no explanation other than standard urban legend fare for who or why the Blissfield Butcher exists, the eventual connection between him and Millie almost feels cut short… perhaps dropped intentionally as seed for a possible franchise. It’s as if Vaughn had to make up his own motivations with the full knowledge none of it would make it on screen.
Less Scream the movie franchise and more “Scream: the Television Series,” it’s few pulled punches are nothing next to an abundance of ridiculous coincidences. Fortunately, the traditional false-start opening sets up everything we need to know to grab the chainsaw and run with it. It’s the Friday the 13th release fans didn’t get for Halloween, so this round goes to the Man Behind the Mask… even when he screams like a little girl.
Freaky is rated R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, language throughout, and has anyone seen Cameron Frye? Anyone?
Four skull recommendation out of four