There’s always a danger, with “something-meets-something” movies that all you take away is the high-concept formula, rather than getting lost in the resulting inventiveness (or lack thereof). Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day – Groundhog Day meets Slasher – was a riot, consistently funny, surprising and well performed. Happy Death Day 2 U offered diminishing returns, but it still had its positives. Freaky, unfortunately, finds Landon rather run aground with an idea Michael Kennedy brought to him – body-swap meets serial killer –because only one half of the pitch has any legs.
Which is, obviously, Vince Vaughn running (and screaming) like a girl when Millie Kessler inhabits his – serial killer the Blissfield Butcher’s – body after he stabs her with an ancient magical dagger. Vaughn earns a good few laughs, although very few that aren’t very obvious. And to be honest, when it comes to running like a girl, Will Ferrell has him trumped. Inevitably, there are gags about Vaughn having a (massive) cock, and trying to avoid being killed for being the spit of a serial killer keeps the proceedings flighty.
But turn to the other side of the equation, and there’s limited potential for Kathryn Newton, inhabited by a mass murderer. There’s no arc, no progression, so unlike every other body-swap movie (okay, I can’t say I’ve seen all of them), only one side of the emotional learning curve has any substance. All Millie/Butcher does is hanker for the next person to kill, and since he/she’s now in high school, a parade of incredibly contrived “deserving” victims needs to be served up: Alan Ruck as a loathsome woodwork teacher; some gang-rapey jocks; a frankly undercooked mean girl (Melissa Collazo) who is frozen in a cryotherapy tank.
Which means all this plotline has going for it are the creative kills, and since I’m not a huge fan of the genre, they were largely lost on me (the opening has a wine bottle/ toilet seat/ wall hook/ tennis racket through head medley; later there’s both bench saw and chainsaw). Newton is far too pretty to be the reject girl (this is the standard Hollywood approach, though), and one has to ask why a serial killer who doesn’t care about his appearance would choose to slut himself up (unless we’re talking Jame Gumb here, which would be controversial in itself). I wasn’t terribly convinced by Newton either, since she has that head-lowered, dead stare in her killer pose arsenal, but that’s about it.
Early on, some of the school bitching – when the first murders occur, Ryler claims a victim was one of her best friends, even though they didn’t even like each other – suggests this might have the satirical legs of Heathers(Landon even uses Whatever Will Be, Will Be so it’s clearly what he’s thinking), but Freaky generally goes for the lowest common denominator, be that humour (“I love your black wiener, Mr Daniels”; wearing a beaver costume; “Your dick makes this pussy drier than sandpaper”) or commentary.
At one point, uber-camp bezzie Josh (Misha Osherovich) exclaims to uber-bland bezzie Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) “You’re black! I’m gay! We are so dead!” This being a riff on movie lore – actually probably closer to disaster movie than slasher, but let it go – except that’s now rather disingenuous, as Landon knows very well that progressive inversion requires both of them to survive. Indeed, while, with his inherent irreverence, he’s more than capable of delivering a woke-skewering horror movie, he’s too affiliated to the cause to go there, hence his signalling throughout.
Josh: What about her?
Josh: What about him?
The Butcher is referenced as a “geriatric” serial killer in the opening scene – if he was on a rampage in 1977, he must have been a Myers-esque one while doing it – but more singularly a “straight white man”. Landon and Kennedy – both gay men – make a point of highlighting the trans reading of the scenario (above). Sure, the premise lends itself to such a subtext (gender on the inside of outward appearance), but it’s low-hanging fruit. Particularly since the major takeaway is that 6ft 5in men run like girls and savage killers are savage killers. In order to wedge in the wokeness, they include the frankly ludicrous scene in which sensitive jock Booker (Uriah Shelton) gets cosy in the back seat with Millie/Butcher. “Technically, you’d be kissing a mass murderer with yellow teeth”, he is told, which wholly absurdly doesn’t seem to deter him (because, as we know, messaging overcomes all coherent objections).
Millie: Having balls sucks!
I’m not sure boosting Freaky for its pro-trans cred especially does the movement any favours, then, but Landon and Kennedy are as unconvincing with their platitudes across the board. Booker has to tell Millie that “Strength doesn’t come from size” and he/she has a conversation with her mum (Katie Finneran) on the other side of a changing room door that seems to be channelling Back to the Future, complete with incest vibe. Added to this, Freaky’s resolution is frankly a stinker. Not just the one that should have been the ending (Millie realising her watch is five minutes fast), but also the utterly lame standard “You thought he was dead” return of the last ten minutes (in which all three Kesslers, including sister police officer Dana Drori, have at the toxic patriarchy). A disappointment from Landon, then.