Review: ‘Freaky,’ starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton

November 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton in “Freaky” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Freaky”

Directed by Christopher Landon

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Blissfield, the horror comedy “Freaky” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 17-year-old girl and a middle-aged serial killer swap bodies in a freak magical spell accident. 

Culture Audience: “Freaky” will appeal primarily to people who like teen-oriented horror with adult humor and who have a high tolerance for bloody gore.

Kathryn Newton, Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich in “Freaky” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The horror comedy “Freaky” is a zany and often-raucous ride that puts a gruesome but memorable spin on the body-swapping concept. The entire premise of the movie is “Freaky Friday” meets “Friday the 13th.” Directed by Christopher Landon (who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Kennedy), “Freaky” delivers as many laughs as it does explicitly brutal scares with all of the violent murders that happen throughout the entire story.

“Freaky” also cleverly lampoons many of the clichés and over-used tropes in teen comedies and horror movies. “Freaky” is from Blumhouse Productions, the same production company behind Landon-directed horror flicks “Happy Death Day” and “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.” Blumhouse movies have been “hit or miss,” in terms of quality. “Freaky” is a definite hit.

The movie begins in the fictional U.S. city of Blissfield, with four teenagers hanging out and partying at night at the upper-middle-class home of one of the teens. The house belongs to the parents of Ginny (played by Kelly Lamor Wilson), who looks like a popular blonde cheerleader type. Ginny’s parents are away on a trip, which is why Ginny and her friends have the house to themselves. The other three teenagers at the house are Ginny’s boyfriend Evan (played by Mitchell Hoog); Sandra (played by Emily Holder); and Isaac (played by Nicholas Stargel). Evan and Isaac are athletic types, while Sandra is a sensible brunette type.

It’s Wednesday, November 11. While the teens are gathered in the living room and drinking alcohol, they start talking about the urban legend of the the Blissfield Butcher, also known as The Butcher, a mysterious serial killer who began murdering people, especially teenagers during homecoming season, back in the 1990s. This serial killer, who seems to have stopped his murder spree in the 2000s, was never caught.

Is he dead? Is he in prison for another crime? Or did he just disappear and become a law-abiding citizen? No one seems to know, but the teens have a laugh at how “geriatric” the killer would be if he were still alive. It’s at this point that horror aficionados know that the killer will be somewhere in the house and ready to go on a rampage.

Sure enough, The Butcher (played by Vince Vaughn) has somehow snuck in the house. (He wears a mask, just like a prototypical serial killer such as Jason Vorhees from the “Friday the 13th” movies or Michael Myers from “Halloween” movies.) And one by one, The Butcher kills all four teenagers, who each have vicious deaths. The Butcher ambushes Isaac in a wine cellar and rams a wine bottle down his throat. The killer then traps Sandra in a bathroom and repeatedly slams a toilet seat on her head, in order to beat her to death.

The Butcher than chases Evan onto to the home’s tennis court, breaks a tennis racket in two, and uses both ends to simultaneously stab Evan on both sides of his head. As for Jenny, she manages to hide and elude the killer for a while, but he eventually finds her and impales her on the wall of the living room. That gives you an idea of how over-the-top the murders are. And The Butcher has stolen a rare dagger in a glass case that’s in the living room.

The next day (Thursday the November 12), a widowed mother and her two daughters, who all live in the same house, are gathered around the dining table for breakfast. Coral Kessler (played by Katie Finneran), who’s a sales clerk at a department store called Discount Bonanza, has been a widow for about a year. (It’s never stated how her husband died.) Coral’s older daughter Charlene Kessler (played by Dana Drori) is in her 20s and is a police officer in Blissfield. Carol’s younger daughter Millie Kessler (played by Kathryn Newton) is 17 years old and a senior at Blissfield Valley High School.

There’s tension in the household because Charlene disapproves of how Coral has been overprotective of Millie and has been using Millie as an emotional crutch. Coral has also been drinking heavily and tries to keep it a secret, but her daughters know that Coral has been drinking so much that she sometimes passes out. Coral goes to great lengths to hide her depression by putting on a falsely chipper demeanor.

Blissfield Valley High School is having a homecoming dance, but Millie tells Charlene that she won’t be there. Why? Because Millie and Coral made plans to see a regional production of “Wicked” together. Coral thinks that homecoming dances are just excuses for teenagers to get drunk or cause mischief, so she’d rather have Millie be safe and keep her company. Charlene thinks it’s pathetic that Coral won’t let Millie have any fun in ways that teenagers in high school are supposed to have fun.

Millie’s two best friends at her school are smart and outspoken Nyla Chones (played by Celeste O’Connor) and openly gay and sassy Josh Detmer (played by Misha Osherovich), who think that Millie is also missing out on a lot of fun by catering to Coral’s needs over her own. Millie is very introverted and too shy to do anything about her crush on a fellow student named Booker (played by Uriah Shelton), who sits next to her in their woodworking class.

The instructor of the woodworking class is Mr. Fletcher (played by Alan Ruck), who belittles Millie any chance that he gets. Every teen-oriented horror movie seems to have clique of bullies. In “Freaky,” there’s not one but two of these cliques.

The “mean girls” clique is led by a queen bee named Ryler (played by Melissa Collazo), who corners Millie at her locker to make snide comments about Millie’s discount clothes. Ryler is a stereotypical, conceited snob who cares more designer labels and other superficial things instead of someone’s character. She’s also a gossip who like to get “dirt” on other people and use it to her advantage.

The “bullying jocks” clique—Phil (played by Magnus Diehl), Squi (Tim Johnson) and Brett (played by Ezra Sexton)—make sexist and crude comments about Millie. (One of them says they would only have sex with Millie if she had a paper bag over her head.) Booker is a friend to these lunkheads, but he doesn’t participate in bullying Millie. However, Booker doesn’t exactly stop his pals from making mean-spirited comments to Millie either.

Early on in the movie, before Millie goes through a transformation, certain students at the school make offhand comments implying that Millie a mousy plain Jane. It’s a little hard to believe, given that Newton looks like a pretty Hollywood actress throughout the entire movie. The way that some of the mean girls treat her, you’d think that she comes to school in rags, but Millie’s wardrobe isn’t out of the ordinary.

It isn’t long before news spreads all over the high school about the four murdered teens who were killed the night before. However, the homecoming football game that night isn’t about to be cancelled. Millie is a beaver mascot for the school’s football team, the Blissfield Valley Beavers. It’s a thankless job and she gets no respect for it. In fact, some of the “cool kids” make fun of Millie when she wears the costume.

We get it. Millie is bullied by a lot of people at school. And that means when a serial killer inhabits her body, watch out.

The body swap happens after the football game, when everyone has gone home and Millie is stuck on a bench outside the football field, waiting for her mother to pick her up. Coral hasn’t been answering Millie’s calls and text messages because she’s passed out drunk. It’s late at night, there’s a killer on the loose, and Millie is getting scared because her phone battery has died. Right before her phone stopped working, Millie was able to call home and talk briefly with her sister Charlene, who had just arrived at the house and told Millie that their mother was passed out drunk again.

It’s now past midnight. And it’s Friday the 13th. And then, just like a typical serial killer in a slasher movie, The Butcher appears from out of nowhere and chases after Millie. He catches up to her in the football field and stabs her in the shoulder with the dagger that he stole. The heavens open up and some strange mystical things happen because that particular dagger has been used.

By this time, The Butcher has his mask off and is about to kill Millie. Just then, Charlene shows up (because she knew that Millie needed a ride home) and sees Millie being attacked. Charlene fires her gun, the killer runs away, but the dagger is accidentally left behind. The dagger is brought to the police station as evidence.

The next morning, Millie wakes up in her bed. It must be the fastest recovery ever from a stab wound. There’s no mention of Millie ever being in a hospital to get the wound treated. Maybe that’s because the hospital would’ve found out the same thing that this person who’s woken up in Millie’s bedroom has found out: Although the body looks like Millie’s, the person inside the body is the Blissfield Butcher. Likewise, Millie has now discovered that she is in the body of the Blissfield Butcher, who lives in a creepy loft-like place that’s filled with morbid-looking souvenirs and decorations.

When Millie finds out that she now looks like The Butcher, she goes to school to tell Josh and Nyla about the transformation. Nyla and Josh are predictably freaked out and don’t believe it first. There’s a big chase scene where they think The Butcher is trying to kill them. A police sketch of the serial-killer suspect, which was presumably based on Charlene’s eyewitness description, has been shown in the media and it’s a pretty good composite drawing of The Butcher.

While Josh and Nyla run through a school hallway to try to escape what they think is The Butcher, Josh shouts to Nyla, “You’re black! I’m gay! We are so dead!” It’s snarky commentary on the stereotype of someone from a minority group dying first in a horror movie.

Millie ends up convincing Josh and Nyla that she really is in The Butcher’s body, by telling them things only Millie would know. Through basic research, the three pals find out something important about the dagger that was used in the attack on Millie: The dagger is an ancient Aztec artifact called The Dola, which was used in ritual sacrifices. If two souls swap bodies while The Dola is being used, the souls have 24 hours to get back in the correct bodies—using The Dola in the same way that it was used when the souls were transferred—or else they will be trapped in the wrong bodies forever.

And so begins the race against time to get the The Dola dagger. The expected hijinks ensue about mistaken identity. And because the two people in this body-swapping comedy are of opposite genders, there are the predictable gags about male/female body parts and sexually suggestive situations that happen with people who don’t know about the body swap.

Because so much of “Freaky” has a lot of teen slang and of-the-moment technology, the movie is eventually going to look very dated. But the performances from the cast will make “Freaky” a crowd-pleaser for generations to come. Newton and Vaughn are hilarious to watch as they inhabit the personalities of Millie and The Butcher who are trapped in the wrong bodies. The humor goes a long way in taking some of the disturbing edge off of the horrific murders that are depicted in the movie.

Meanwhile, Osherovich is a total scene stealer who has some of the best lines in the movie. Some people might take issue with how his Josh character might be perceived as a flamboyant gay stereotype. However, Osherovich brings a lot of authenticity and respect to the role, which shows what it’s like to be a teenager who’s proud to be gay. Rather than being marginal tokens, Josh and Nyla actually do a lot of heroic things in the movie.

“Freaky” does a great balancing act of embracing horror clichés in a satirical way while rejecting other horror clichés in a defiant way. And there are a few surprisingly sweet sentimental moments. “Freaky” has some plot holes and very predictable scenes, but that doesn’t take away from how well the cast members portray these characters under the competent direction of Landon. The violence in the movie is cruel, but the movie has an underlying message of tolerance in showing how people shouldn’t be judged by their appearances alone.

Universal Pictures released “Freaky” in U.S. cinemas on November 13, 2020.