Not That ‘Freaky’

A John Hughes-style slasher film with an LGBTQ twist

Freaky is a mainstream thriller with requisite blood-splattered mayhem and overheated teenage sex talk. It’s safe-edgy, a transgression-lite ride through jokey menace with all the contours of woke political correctness. It might even be the most body-positive take on movies with a body count.

There’s just no shock in multiple murders anymore. Psycho came out 60 years ago, and the serial-killer movie is essentially geriatric. The genre has cycled through its myriad stylizations: ’70s low-budget docu-realistic takes like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, ’80s studio-polished phantasmagorias like A Nightmare on Elm Street, ’90s metanarratives like Scream, ’00s slapstick larks like Scary Movie, and ’10s pop-culture blenders like Happy Death Day. We get it: lethal stalkers are still kinda scary but also mostly worn-out.

FREAKY ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Christopher Landon
Written by: Christopher Landon, Michael Kennedy
Starring:  Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran
Running time: 101 min

The ebullient Happy Death Day, from writer-director Christopher Landon, mixed comedy, horror, and mystery, with a bitch heroine doomed to repeatedly die every evening until she solves her own murder. She also realizes what a horrible jerk she was and becomes more empathetic in the process. It’s a homicidal Groundhog Day. And since mash-ups of other movies worked well for him there, Landon does the same here for Freaky. This time, he’s splicing together Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th, allowing for gender-bending hijinks, teen sass, personal growth, and chainsaw attacks. Imagine a John Hughes slasher film with an LGBTQ twist.

In idyllic small-town Blissfield, all the horny high schoolers are gearing up for Homecoming except for wallflower Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton). She’s planning to skip it entirely and avoid her classmates’ endless taunts. But, a few days before the big dance, she falls prey to her town’s urban legend The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), a longtime on-the-loose serial killer credited with unsolved murders every year. The Butcher’s previous victim had a rich father who collected rare antiquities, among them a mystical blade the psycho killer nicked called La Dola Dagger. So now the Butcher tries to stab Millie with the weapon, which, when wielded, magically glows and invokes hallucinations of ancient Incan rites before switching the souls of the murderer and his victim.

Lo and behold, Millie wakes up the next morning in the Butcher’s grisly bedroom abattoir while the Butcher arises in Millie’s pubescent boudoir. “I’m a giant!” Millie-as-Butcher shrieks, realizing that she’s got brown teeth and smells like hot dog water. Meanwhile, Butcher-as-Millie silently snarfs down fistfuls of pancakes while ogling the enormous kitchen knife Millie’s mom uses to cut fresh pineapple. So Millie-as-Butcher needs to convince her two best friends that she’s trapped in a man’s body while Butcher-as-Millie, dressing with femme fatale confidence, schemes to catch and kill as many classmates as she can. By the way, there’s a time limit. Millie’s friends get their Spanish teacher to translate internet research on the dagger and learn that, after 24 hours, unless reversed, the transference becomes permanente.

You guys, it’s me! Vince Vaughn in ‘Freaky’.

You can best view Freaky as a candy-colored creepshow, a potty-mouthed primer in heartfelt adolescent insecurities that also happens to have cartoonish kills and goofy thrills. Vince Vaughn admirably commits, though, convincingly pulling off the vocal inflections and gawky comportment of an awkward girl moving around in an even more awkward corpus. “Standing and peeing is kind of rad,” she-as-he says in one of the more obvious zingers. “This guy’s bladder is huge,” she-as-he adds in a not-bad surprise postscript chuckle line.

The film’s of-the-moment relevance comes from its cultural-cusping trans talk. “What about her?” one of Millie’s friends says, gesturing to a tied-up Butcher-as-Millie. “Pronouns!” the other friend scolds. She’s a man trapped in a woman’s body, you cis bigot—call him by his chosen identity!

There’s a silly sweetness throughout, which keeps the innocuously buoyant movie far from sober, let alone frightening. But there’s one are-they-really-doing-this? scene that earns Freaky some serious cred. Millie’s boy crush Booker (Uriah Shelton) is helping Millie-as-Butcher and her friends track down the killer and the knife for the aforementioned time-ticking transference. As he waits in a car alone with Millie-as-Butcher, she confesses her attraction to him, and he reveals that the feeling has been mutual for a while. And, just like that, the two of them start to kiss. Booker is effectively lip-locked with a towering, middle-aged man who is actually a woman deep down inside. It’s a very Love-Is-Love moment that’s oddly genuine and refreshingly honest. And, surprisingly, not at all freaky.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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