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Blumhouse has been the name in horror since 2000, blasting its stamp on everything from movies and television to short films, documentaries, books and podcasts. The production company isn’t afraid to mix up its approach, either, shifting from high-concept Jordan Peele exercises that are layered with sharp socio-political discourse (Get Out, Us) to franchise pictures that squeeze every drop of blood out of an idea (Paranormal Activity, The Purge). If it sounds scary, Blumhouse probably is interested in trying it, and their results have been far more hit than miss.
Because the Blumhouse label supports so many different projects – they’ve backed nine different films in 2020, with Freaky being their tenth – some feel like they need a bit more workshopping before they are ready to hit the screen, and that’s the case with Christopher Landon’s latest horror-comedy. Freaky sounds like an absolutely victory in the pitch meeting. “It’s Freaky Friday, but this time, a high school girl switches places with a serial killer!” Done. Sold. Go make that movie. And they did… they just didn’t add much beyond the premise, thereby wasting a whole lot of potential.
Freaky Needed To Do More With Its Body-Swap Premise.
To the best of my knowledge, Freaky isn’t the first horror movie to employ the body-swap concept, though it definitely is the most mainstream horror project to apply the classic identity-switch rules to the slasher genre. Usually, this gag is played for laughs in comedies such as The Change-Up (with Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman), or classic examples including George Burns’s 18 Again! and Carl Reiner’s All of Me.
Using the formula in a slasher comedy instantly establishes a bottomless well of potential, but very little of it makes it to the screen in Freaky. Serial killer Barney Garris (Vaughn) goes by the name The Blissfield Butcher, though the movie initially treats his legacy as “a campfire yarn” that teenagers don’t really believe – until they find themselves being hunted by this lumbering stalker. Freaky introduces a magical knife, stolen from the collection of a dime-store artifact collector, which Garris attempts to use on mild-mannered high-schooler Millie (Kathryn Newton), causing the body swap.
And then… nothing. I mean, Freaky goes through all of the expected beats. Millie, in the body of the Blissfield Butcher, needs to convince her two closest friends (Celeste O’Conner, Misha Osherovich) what has happened to her. Barney, in Millie’s body, infiltrates the high school and causes a little bit of mayhem. The movie assumes it’d be funny to watch Vaughn and Newton playing exaggerated versions of each other, and it can be. But Freaky doesn’t advance the concept, or even take full advantage of what should have been a real agent of chaos, and that’s unleashing a serial killer into an unsuspecting school.
Freaky Director Christopher Landon Raised Our Expectations.
It’s possible I went into Freaky with higher expectations because of Christopher Landon’s involvement. He cleverly fashioned the Groundhog Day premise into a winning horror romp in Happy Death Day, then elevated the concept into a twisty time-travel thriller for Happy Death Day 2U. Greenlighting a body-swap horror comedy from Landon sounded exciting, but the savvy understanding of the inherent clichés of that formula don’t lead to anything new in Freaky, outside of a few memorable kills.
Based on its opening act, where Vaughn silently hunts a small party of bratty teens through a darkened mansion, Freaky almost tricked me into believing Landon was paying homage to vintage 1980s horror films. Vaughn’s silent, mask-wearing killer conjures imagery of Jason and Michael, while the lone scene of “backstory” we get on the underdeveloped character – a glimpse into his home when Millie wakes up in the killer’s body – is straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
But instead of choosing one genre to spoof (or properly investigate), Freaky throws all sorts of nods against the wall, waiting for one of them to stick and take the movie in an interesting direction. It kind of doesn’t.
Vince Vaughn And Kathryn Newton Salvage Freaky.
Casting helps most body-swap projects succeed, and Freaky is no different. If you thought, going in to Freaky, that it’d be entertaining to watch 50-year-old Vaughn playing an unsure, kind but awkward teenage girl, you’d be right. And when Newton assumes the identity of the bloodthirsty serial killer in the pint-sized frame of a student, she makes the most of the physical challenges – obstacles, really – that come with a teenage girl trying to murder a bitter teacher (Alan Ruck) or a member of the town’s law enforcement.
And if that’s your base-level expectations, Freaky might meet them. The horror comedy delivers exactly what you expected when you saw the trailer, and nothing more. If anything, it overstays its welcome for a forced girl-power conclusion that pushes the already thin credibility of the concept past its breaking point.
It’s ultimately bothersome because if handled right, Freaky has all of the ingredients of a rewarding horror franchise that could leap from scenario to scenario, seeing how many odd pairing one could create with this mystical blade and some unsuspecting victims. But Freaky falters, so the premise might need fresher ideas of Blumhouse plans on trying this again.