Body swapping films aren’t a new concept. In fact, there have been more than a dozen over the last several decades including the most famous one “Freaky Friday” starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan upon which the newest Vince Vaughn horror flick by Blumhouse Productions loosely borrows their title. Looking back through history, from the original 1973 version of “Freaky Friday” starring Jodie Foster and based on Mary Rogers’ book to Tom Hanks in “Big,” Jennifer Garner in “Going on 30,” and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s “Jumanji” series, all of these films are comedies at the heart. “Freaky,” on the other hand, is a gruesome horror movie from start to finish with just a touch of comedy if you can stomach the rest.
“Freaky” not only borrows a portion of its title, it appropriates many of its horror concepts such as the mask-wearing villain replicating Jason in “Friday the 13th,” and any and every horror trope from “Scream,” “Saw” (all the versions), and “Halloween.” While there’s really nothing new here, Blumhouse ups the ante with its shocking visual brutality and special effects.
Of course, as any scary movie should do, the film’s premise starts with a folklore of the villain. In this case, it’s the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn) who, on Homecoming night, brutally murdered several of the town’s youth. As the celebratory dance looms overhead, two teen couples recount the lore, dismissing it as nonsense. And, you guessed it. They all bite the bullet or should I say the wine bottle. Writers Michael Kennedy and Christopher Landon who also directed this movie, make no bones about their intent to shock you as we watch horrific scenes unfold in the first 10 minutes making you cringe, gasp, and ultimately look away.
Now for the body swapping. We meet the meek and innocent Millie (Kathryn Newton) who is bullied not just by the mean girls and the misogynistic jocks, but also the shop teacher (Alan Ruck) who gets in on the action. This sets the tone for the obvious and inevitable revenge plot after Millie and The Blissfield Butcher trade places.
Millie’s spirit is now in the 50 year-old 6’4” muscular male physique of The Butcher giving Vaughn plenty of latitude to have fun performing as a petite teenage blonde. And Newton tries her best to be the sinister and menacing Butcher who finds being female to be not so much fun. But what makes body swapping films fun? It’s not just the trading of bodies, it’s the switching of personalities and that’s where this film truly lacks. While we know Millie has a tough home life, her shy personality never rings through to Vaughn’s portrayal of Millie’s psyche and Newton’s one-dimensional villain schtick gets old pretty quickly.
As we’ve seen with many body swapping films, there’s a race against time in order to prevent each character from being permanently changed. Millie has exactly 24 hours to not only switch back, but to save the town from another brutal massacre. The Butcher, however, uses his new body to earn the trust of the other kids resulting in slicing, dicing, blood spurting and bodies piling up.
We’ve seen it all before, but we’ve never seen a body swapping horror movie. With Vaughn as a main character, we are unintentionally promised a comedy. While we do chuckle at how he portrays his new character running, enjoying a new found way to use the bathroom, and falingl in love with a boy, the comedy is a low priority in this film. Supporting characters of Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) are over-the-top as Millie’s best friends, but it is Osherovich’s performance that gives us that welcomed reprieve and allows us to let our guard down to laugh at his physical comedy and humorous responses to situations.
Blumhouse is known for its recipe for horror movie success, but this one just goes a little too far with showing us every gruesome attack leaving nothing to the imagination. That does, however, allow for some remarkable special effects which are a standout in the film. Editing is also key in horror films to make you jump or squeal even when you know the scare is just around the corner. That’s what makes horror films fun.
“Freaky” gives you plenty of jump-scares, many of which make you laugh at yourself, and Vaughn appears to have a little fun with his role, but in the end (and even this ending is like every other horror movie) it’s just another horror flick that is way too graphically violent.
Playing in Theaters Friday, Nov. 13
2 1/2 Stars