It’s such a perfect concept for a horror comedy it’s a wonder no one has done it before: a hulking great male serial killer swaps bodies with a tiny, dorky teenage girl – chaos ensues. ‘Freaky Friday The 13th,’ as the idea was initially pitched by co-writer Michael Kennedy. In the hands of Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2 U director, Christopher Landon, you get exactly what you expect – a funny, sharp teen romp full of inventive kills and excessive comedy gore.
Detective Pikachu’s Kathryn Newton plays Millie, good natured but scatty teen who is always late for class, often picked on by the mean girls, and who dresses up as a beaver to play the team mascot. She hangs out with her mates Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’Connor), lusts over hot boy Booker (Uriah Shelton) and tries to take care of her widowed mum (Katie Finneran). Typical teen fare until the emergence of The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) who offs four typical teens and steals an ancient knife which he uses to perform a body swap ritual on Millie one night after the big game.
Now Millie has just 24 hours to get her body back or stay inside the Blissfield Butcher forever. Freaky sets out its stall from the off with cartoonish kills – we get death by wine bottle, toilet seat, and tennis racket before the main title card even lands – yet the bright color palette and Bear McCreary’s super upbeat score make you feel like you could be watching something like Legally Blonde.
Body swap comedies stand and fall on the performances of their leads, and here it looks like Newton and Vaughn are having a whale of a time. Newton gets to enact some glorious kills but hers is perhaps the less interesting of the two transformations–we never really get to know The Blissfield Butcher, so her role involves a lot of sinister looks, a few great one-liners, and plenty of set pieces but ultimately not a lot of dialogue or character development. We never do know why the Butcher does what he does.
Meanwhile Vaughn is having a field day. Leaning hard into emulating a teenage girl there’s a certain level of inevitable cliché – high pitched screaming and flapping about – but Vaughn pulls it off, managing to completely convince the audience he’s Millie, even achieving the odd moment of sweetness when he offers comfort to Millie’s mum and bonding with her crush. The latter moment is certainly played for laughs, but at heart there’s something here about what’s inside being more important than appearances.
Freaky is fluff but it still manages to explore wider gender themes – Millie in the body of The Butcher isn’t going to be pushed around by the school bullies anymore while The Butcher in the body of Millie can take revenge on Millie’s enemies with impunity. No one would suspect a little blonde teen of murder, but Millie’s lack of physical strength hampers The Butcher too. There are of course the obvious boobs and balls gags in there, but it’s not made too much of (the idea of Vince Vaughn feeling Kathryn Newton’s boobs isn’t a comfortable one).
Freaky is a great deal of fun, though it’s not a film to be picked apart too much–why let something as trivial as ‘logic’ spoil a good time? Questions like who The Butcher is, how he knows about the knife, what the deal is with Homecoming, why this year, what’s the mask, what’s going on in his murder shed, and the similar are questions for after the film. They shouldn’t spoil the ride.
Opening in theaters in the U.S., with the UK release date unset for the second lockdown, Freaky definitely feels like a movie best enjoyed with a crowd. Light and fluffy with lashings of slashings, Freaky hits the spot for a non-challenging horror-com and should be a Friday the 13th favorite for years to come.
Freaky opens in U.S. theaters on Friday, Nov. 13. Its UK release date is TBC.