Directed By Christopher Landon
Starring – Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Alan Ruck
The Plot – After swapping bodies with a deranged serial killer (Vaughn), a young girl (Newton) in high school discovers she has less than 24 hours before the change becomes permanent.
Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, sexual content, and adult language throughout
– Double duty. This is seen through its two stars, Vaughn and Newton, who essentially are giving us two distinctly different performances for one movie. The winner between them is easily Vaughn, whose gigantic stature and all black wardrobe make for the most when he’s energetically emoting a teenage girl. Nothing about his performance is over the top, nor is it contradicting for the kind of soul that is encased in this hulking physical change. Vaughn very much zeroes in on the quirks and nuances of the teenage spectrum, and balances it with a strong, plodding serial killer whose immensity makes him perfect for the slasher genre. This is all not to say that Newton doesn’t hit it out of the park, quite the opposite actually. It is easily my favorite performance from Kathryn to date, and one which allowed her to showcase the intensity in facial resonation that channels so much emotion without a single word to carry them. It’s just that the early on in the movie the script chooses Vaughn to be its colorful protagonist, and it’s such an immense shadow cast by a bigger, bolder character transformation.
– Self-aware. What’s especially rewarding for a movie that is anything but original in terms of horror or its body-swapping formula is an awareness to scheme that allows the movie to have fun on its own terms. This is especially prominent in the opening sequence, where a series of familiar tropes and horror cliches are ever so obviously distributed in the most convenient of circumstances, bluntly articulating the kind of popcorn piece that follows throughout its 96 minutes. It works mainly because the humor itself is earned and consistent without ever fully committing itself to crossing over as a comedy, but beyond that it’s the way it works hand-in-hand with the movie’s horror elements, which are never ruined because of these momentary gags of laughter. Once in a while you get a movie that competently balances the best of horror and comedy for a hybrid of hysteria, and “Freaky” is the newest in this class, piecing together familiarity in the frights with a respectably delightful self-deprecating personality that gives it a hip enveloping all around.
– R-rated brutality. Man oh man, does this movie earn its coveted mature rating in more ways than one. The obvious is of course the gore itself, which are easily some of the most creative and revealing kills that I have seen in a few years of horror cinema. There is no holding back on the brunt permanency of a saw slicing a man’s head in half, or the many piercings through eyes that gave me more than a couple wincing moments of intentional displeasure. But there’s also a naturalistic flow within the dialogue of the teenagers, that even though contains its own flaws, does succeed in the immature quality of bottling vulgarities. More than anything in the Blumhouse catalog, this allows “Freaky” to stand out, and may attain a great word of mouth because it trades in one audience who might not be old enough to see it, for an experienced audience looking for something to fill the void of carnage candy horror, which has unfortunately been missed this depleted cinematic season.
– Rich history. I have to tip my hat to any contemporary horror film that knows and absorbs its predecessors with the kind of momentary nods that only hardcore horror fans like myself will accurately interpret. This element is scattered throughout the film like a jigsaw puzzle that only materializes once you see the bigger picture, but the various images and bodily movements of the characters serve so much more than a passing coincidence to the founding fathers of horror who resound so effectively when these matters come up. It’s also in the technical aspects, like the on-screen text fonts and unorthodox camera angles that prove that Landon is a more than capable student of the game, providing a rich tapestry of heritage that the movie enthusiastically adopts without shamefully ripping off.
– Familiar formula. Easily the biggest fear coming out of a series of trailers that didn’t win me over was the obvious formula that is reinserted back into cinema every ten years or so. Thankfully, this isn’t a film that rests on its laurels, as the deviation to the body swap structure is given a facelift, with a series of rules and social commentary that proves this movie has a lot to say about the world it is vibrantly depicting. For instance, the movie dissects a lot of pre-conceived notions and treatment about females that is cleverly deconstructed in the way these victims turn things around on their predators, offering moments of inspirational glee from the ladies of the audience who I’m sure can relate to more than a few passing moments. In addition to this, I admire any screenplay that follows the rules of transformation, complete with body adapting, that is not only evidently seen in the way these characters interact with their newfound physical properties, but also in turning it into an adversity conquering subplot for Vaughn’s teenage girl midway through the film. It’s enough that this formula is being seen through horror eyes for the first time ever, but the depth to the screenplay gives audiences plenty to chew on, and makes this anything but another conventional horror film phoning it in with a premise.
– Pleasing production. There’s much to commend about Landon and company’s eye for detail that make up the presentational qualities of the movie. This is of course another 5 million dollar budget by Blumhouse in an effort to make four times their money, but the visuals never suffer because of such, feeding us a variety of complex shot selections, fun set designs, and the occasional intoxicating lighting that fills in the gaps of atmosphere where the direction sometimes fumbles. I already mentioned shots alluding to other movies (Cough!! Kubrick) of the genre, but the handheld consistency offers a lot of intensity and wide range of reach in their movements without distorting or over-complicating the simplicity of the scene. This is also a setting in town that is dedicatedly captured in a shuffling of fictional businesses and naturally creepy places within the high school campus that bring that small fish anxiety of being a high school kid to life all over again, and keep the pacing of the film tightly distributed from ever feeling redundant or derivative.
– Weak characterization. The movie values Vaughn, Newton, and maybe Newton’s on-screen mother. That’s it. Everyone else, whether it be the one-dimensional jocks, or even Newton’s two on-screen best friends, the screenplay has no interest in making any of them stand out, underwriting layers of power point personality that can be written entirely on a sugar packet. The gay character has to overtly dramaticize everything and “Gay it up” in a way that leaves no doubt what so ever about his sexual orientation, even if the conversation doesn’t call for it. The most frustrating of all of these characters, however, is a cop sister (Played by Dana Drori), who is constantly called upon and hinted at for having a bigger arc, but never fully followed through on. This leaves me wondering if there was a deleted scene between her and Newton somewhere on the editing room floor that didn’t make the final cut, because the movie focuses on her enough to make audiences think something bigger pertains to her dissatisfied stance, and yet can never take even five minutes to flesh her out in a way that makes her anywhere near important as her youthful on-screen sibling.
– Annoying dialogue. Where do I begin? You could blame the heavy-handed teenage lingo, which feels so obviously packaged to a distinct audience, or you could blame the on-the-nose exposition dumps, with the kind of subtlety of a trash compactor. Either way, there were more than a few annoyances with the written word of mouth that easily prove as the biggest hinderance to this good movie being a great one, and giving us a series of on-screen instances that were so obviously going to be written back in to the resolution of the conflicts. One such instance involves a secret handshake, whose inclusion comes completely out of left field, but left me quite literally saying aloud “Gee, I wonder if that’s how she’s going to later prove to her friends who she is”. There’s another big one involving a boy at school who Newton’s character shares a class with, but it would spoil the resolution of the third act for you like it did for me instantly when this scene, and particular gadget, were brought up. Just know it’s another example of sloppy execution that leaves nothing to chance. Speaking of which….
– Predictable. I would like to tell you that there were characters killed along the way who left a major impact on our central protagonist, or that the convoluted arc of a covenant knife inserted into the film brought forth a series of twists that subverted my expectations. Unfortunately, that would be lying to you guys, and completely overselling what about this third act with an abundance of stakes felt like a conveyor belt resolution, and one that is prolonged with an unnecessary epilogue that tacks on the minutes. It’s an additional conflict that comes out of nowhere, and underscores what I previously thought was a satisfying conclusion on the road to resolution, and cost this movie dearly where unconventional exploration could’ve allowed it to stand out the most for years to come.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-