Three years ago, Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day found some great laughs by applying the conceit of Groundhog Day to a slasher film. Now, he’s made a slasher version of Freaky Friday that’s simply entitled Freaky, and it’s enough to make you wonder what other non-horror films could be made into a slasher flick. (13 Going on 30? The Nutty Professor? Cyrano de Bergerac?) As for Freaky, it’s not nearly as tidy as Happy Death Day, but it does have some compensatory pleasures.
The film is set in a town called Blissfield, which is haunted by a hockey mask-wearing killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) who targets teens during high school homecoming. On this day, he chases wallflower Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) down after the football game and stabs her with a knife that he picked up from his last murder scene. Trouble is, the knife turns out to be an ancient Aztec dagger with magical powers, so instead of her dying, the two of them switch bodies. Now trapped in the Butcher’s body, Millie has to convince her best friends Nyla and Josh (Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich) of her identity and reverse the switch before it becomes permanent.
At one point, Josh refers to the Butcher in Millie’s body as “Murder Barbie,” so that’s what I’ll call him, while referring to Millie in the Butcher’s body as Not Murder Barbie. The premise has Vaughn playing a teenage girl for most of the film, which is not my idea of a good time. (Then again, a whole bunch of people went to the Jumanji sequel last winter to see The Rock imitate Danny DeVito, so what do I really know?) I’m more interested in seeing Newton as the killer, going all still inside as she’s thrust into an environment filled with unsuspecting potential victims who don’t see her as a threat. Vaughn does commit to the bit, but his comic stylings are familiar to us. The only thing Landon really gets out of the gender flip between his characters is a scene when Murder Barbie goes after a condescending shop teacher (Alan Ruck), only for the middle-aged loser to decide to work out his anger issues by stomping on a little girl.
If he should have extracted more, he still manages a nicely underplayed scene where Not Murder Barbie gains some perspective on her family life by posing as a customer at the discount clothing store where her mom (Katie Finneran) works. While running from Not Barbie, Josh yells to Nyla, “You’re Black! I’m gay! We are so dead!”, and the filmmakers follow that line by playing dexterously with the trope of gay characters’ tendency to be killed in movies like these. Freaky may not repay repeated viewings, but as comic horror movies go, it’s a modest treat.
Starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton. Directed by Christopher Landon. Written by Michael Kennedy and Christopher Landon. Rated R.