Released in theaters Nov. 13, “Freaky” is the latest horror flick from Blumhouse Productions. Written and directed by Christopher Landon (“Happy Death Day” “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones”), the horror-comedy balances terror with bawdy humor and a healthy dose of gore. The grotesquely charming movie is worth a watch, but squeamish viewers should be aware of what they’re getting into.
“Freaky” opens with four teenagers spinning fireside tales about the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), a local legend who is said to murder mischievous teens when homecoming season rolls around. As though summoned by their stories, the Butcher manifests and brutally picks them off one by one, swiping an ancient Aztec dagger from a display case before booking it from the scene of the crime.
Enter Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), a perennially unpopular 17-year-old high schooler and part-time football mascot. When her wine-drunk mom (Katie Finneran) forgets to pick her up after the homecoming game, the Butcher stalks and stabs Millie with the dagger but fails to kill her. She’s rescued and returned home by her cop sister (Dana Drori), but at midnight the dagger’s mystical effects take hold and Millie and the Butcher magically swap bodies.
When she wakes up in the Butcher’s body, Millie learns she has 24 hours to stab him with the dagger and swap back before she’s stuck in her would-be killer’s body forever. Naturally, bloody hijinks ensue.
It is, admittedly, hilarious to watch Vince Vaughn pretend to be a teenage girl in a grown man’s body. He embraces his role enthusiastically and without mocking the teenage girl archetype he’s inhabiting. It’s delightful, and he steals every scene he’s in.
Newton, for her part, makes the switch from goofy teenager to seasoned serial killer look effortless. Now in Millie’s body, the Butcher gives himself a killer makeover and goes on a brief murder spree at Millie’s high school, while Millie scrambles to find her friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) and get their help.
“Freaky” is tightly paced, with a thrilling soundtrack, vibrant lighting and immersive set design to draw the audience in. The dialogue is chock-full of quips and barbs, and while the Gen Z characters sound like they were written by adults, it’s humorous without being off-putting.
The film is self-aware and leans hard into its campy tropes. “You’re Black, I’m gay, we’re so dead!” Josh yells to Nyla as they flee from Millie in the Butcher’s body.
While fantastical slasher elements are present and accounted for (did someone say chainsaws?), the bulk of the runtime is devoted to gender-swapped dark comedy and some surprisingly sweet and heartfelt character dynamics.
In one scene, Millie and her friends cold-cock the Butcher and abduct Millie’s football-star crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton), to protect him from the killer. In order to convince Booker of her identity, Millie recites a tender love poem — Sara Teasedale’s “I Am Not Yours” — which she’d anonymously slipped into his locker weeks before.
The absurdity of a middle-aged man declaring teenage love for a varsity jock could have been played straight for laughs, instead it’s a genuinely touching scene. Booker reveals requited feelings for Millie and gets on board with their plan as the film races toward the knock-down, drag-out finale.
The film deals in part with themes of rape culture and teenage girls’ relative powerlessness in the world, and the exhilarating climax flips the “Final Girl” trope on its head. It also subverts the slasher tradition of women and minorities receiving long, drawn-out deaths on-screen, as the most brutal executions are doled out to male characters. The ending is resonant, satisfying and sends a clear message: underdogs can handle themselves.
“Freaky,” rated R, is playing in theaters nationwide.