Celebrate Friday The 13th With ‘Freaky’
Horror comedy twist on body swap films opens at South Bay Drive-In
Friday, November 13, 2020
"Freaky Friday" (1976)
"Student Bodies" (1981)
"Happy Death Day" (2017)
Remember "Freaky Friday"? There was one in the 1970s (with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster) and one in 2003 (with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan) and both served up a fantasy tale in which a mom and a daughter swapped bodies to see how the other half lives.
Well, since it’s 2020, a year that seems particularly cursed, things are going to be a little freakier in a new film version of that familiar story. So now we have a serial killer and a teenage girl changing bodies.
Millie (Kathryn Newton) is a mousy high schooler with best friends who check the proper diversity boxes of Black and gay. She gets bullied at school and ignores her own desires to make her widowed mom happy. Then one night after a school game, she's waiting for her neglectful mom to pick her up and she encounters the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), a masked serial killer pumped up as an urban legend. He attacks her but because he's using a cursed dagger he stole from a previous murder, his attempt to kill Millie instead prompts a body swap. When they wake up in the morning the killer is in a teenager's body and Millie is in his.
While Millie is understandably shocked and upset, the Blissfield Butcher realizes that he is now free to roam the high school in a perfect disguise.
Writer-director Christopher Landon created "Happy Death Day" in 2017 and its sequel "Happy Death Day 2U" last year. Both films were surprisingly delightful horror comedies smartly sending up genre tropes with a breezy comic flair.
Landon isn't quite as clever riffing on horror cliches in "Freaky" as in the "Death Day" films. And since he's revisiting the "Freaky Friday" films, which were also Disney films, he could have made fun of the Disney tropes as well for added enjoyment. A nice twist might have been instead of giving the final girl the expected gay and Black friend, making the gay or Black character the lead. A final boy could have been refreshing.
The film is also frustrating because its heroine in wolf's clothing doesn't always do the obvious smart thing (like why doesn't she just try to convince her cop sister of what happened) but the fact that she makes some lame decisions does not seem to be done with intentional humor.
But the film does have two main attractions: clever gory kills and Vaughn as a bullied high school girl finding empowerment in the 6’5” body of a deranged murderer. Vaughn is a delight whether he's doing a spirit cheer to convince Millie's friends that bodies have been swapped or flirting with Millie's mom in an awkward moment.
With "Happy Death Day" Landon had a very clear, sharp vison of what he wanted to tackle and play with. In "Freaky" his focus seems less clear. The film is at its best in the high school setting when it touches on real problems of bullying and getting revenge in unexpected ways. It also might have been fun if each of the swapped characters got a little insight into the other, a kind of perverse twist of seeing how the other half lives from the original films.
I think if Landon had been as on the money with "Freaky" and he was with "Happy Death Day" I wouldn't have been pondering missed opportunities as I watched the film.
Despite some shortcomings, "Freaky" proves to be a fitting Friday the 13th distraction. And since 2020 has been such a rollercoaster maybe we need the emphasis to be more on the comedy than the horror on this particular Friday the 13th.
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