There is something truly delicious about the films Christopher Landon brings to our screens. From his work with the majority of the Paranormal Activity series, to his Goonies-esque Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, the writer and director always finds a way to put his own stamp on the films he is a part of.
But it wasn’t until 2017’s Happy Death Day, and its sequel, that he truly got his foot in the door and got to show us what he was really made of. The slasher film meets Groundhog Day mash-up brought something new to a genre that is more than a little in need of some fun being injected into it. With that in mind, Landon has re-teamed with Jason Blum to bring us Freaky, a slasher movie remix of body swap comedy Freaky Friday.
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When The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn, Brawl in Cell Block 99), previously thought to be nothing but an urban legend conjured up by the minds of local kids, strikes at a party and murders four teenagers he takes with him an Aztec knife used for ritual sacrifice. That same week, only a couple of nights later, the Butcher strikes again at the Blissfield Valley High School homecoming. Things take a turn when he attempts to use his newly stolen murder weapon, and instead of helping high school student Millie Kessler (Katheryn Newton, Detective Pikachu) shuffle off of her mortal coil, the ornate blade swaps the bodies of the polar opposite pair.
Waking up at opposite ends of town, Mille finds herself in the body of a middle-aged serial killer, while the previous occupant of the body finds himself with a brand new teenage girl body to wreak havoc in. Now Mille has less than 24 hours to convince her friends Josh and Nyla (NOS4A2’s Misha Osherovich and Wetlands’ Celeste O’Connor respectively) that she’s really their friend in the body of a man more than twice her age, find the dagger and stab Blissfield’s very own murdering psychopath before they are both stuck in the bodies they now inhabit.
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The cat-and-mouse game of serial killer and final girl has been well played out over the last thirty or forty years and it can be tough to bring something unique or interesting to your slasher film to make it stand out. Thankfully, that’s where Landon truly shines when it comes to bringing a spark of originality to his films. Adding a splash of almost stoner level comedy to his twist on the body-swap tale helps Freaky stand out in a crowd and makes the thought of spending 100+ minutes with Millie and her friends all the more appetising.
As Millie tears across town trying to avoid the police and find her body, the world she suddenly finds herself in is scary and confusing. It’s a world where a six foot man doesn’t belong in the girls showers in a school and every urge to pee is a whole new pantomime experience for the audience. Freaky is an honest-to-goodness comedy goldmine when it so desires, and while it does reach out and grab the watcher’s funny bone regularly enough to keep you chuckling, the film is clever enough to know when to hold back and let its slightly less obvious plot out of the bag. For on the other side of the coin, is a story of a woman freed of her usual place in these stories. Freed of the designations “final girl” or “damsel in distress”.
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With a brand new body and a lifetime’s worth of knowledge, the killer occupying Millie’s body instantly turns the character on screen from target, to stalker. With more flashes of comedy as the teenager’s body doesn’t have the strength to do what its new renter wants to do, it doesn’t take away from the wonderful flipped perspective of a woman with the will and want to carve her way through a student body in a way usually reserved for the Jasons, Michaels and Ghostfaces of this world. It is a magnificent moment for the horror genre and every swing, slice and spurt of blood is well-earned and all the more entertaining for it.
Away from the far too simple label of “horror Freaky Friday”, Christopher Landon’s latest entry to his filmography is much more than a simple slasher. While it doesn’t quite hit the highs of the director’s Happy Death Day series, it stands proudly and holds its own against decades of serial killer films that came before it. With a star in Vince Vaughn who is lapping up every second he gets to swing his junk around being a teenage girl for laughs and Kathryn Newton being the first woman on screen to have her murderous side unleashed in quite some time, Freaky is a superb entry into the slasher film sub-genre and another arrow in a steadily filling quiver that proves Landon should just be handed blank cheques from here on out.
Freaky is out in cinemas on 2nd July.