What if you made Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis swap bodies, but Jamie Lee Curtis is actually a psycho butcher? That’s basically 2020’s Freaky. If you didn’t get the reference, the former, minus the, uh, butcher part, is 2003’s Freaky Friday. The comedy-horror film comes from someone well-versed in that genre, Christopher Landon, who also did 2017’s Happy Death Day and its 2019 follow up, Happy Death Day 2U. Both films I plan on reviewing soon as well. I’m on a Landon kick apparently.
In this case, instead of Lohan and Curtis, we do have a gender switch, which spices up the formula, as Millie Kessler (played by Kathryn Newton), and the Blissfield Butcher (played by Vince Vaughn) swap bodies due to a mystical Aztec curse. Thank goodness for Newton and Vaughn. They really lean into their roles, and rise above what I think to be a rather bland and formulaic script.
I’m actually surprised Rottentomatoes’ critical consensus is currently 87 percent, far higher than Landon’s previous films, even though I liked Happy Death Day better (spoiler!). The consensus reads, “An entertaining slasher with a gender-bending, body-swapping twist, this horror-comedy juggles genres with Freaky fun results.”
I mean, I did enjoy the beginning with the homages to Scream and Halloween, first with the teenager girl being killed just as her parents arrive at the beginning of the film (Scream), and then the Butcher tilting his head as he looks at the dead teenager pinned by a weapon on the wall (Halloween). I also was surprised at how brutal the film was. Every kill throughout the film was violent as hell. It seems like Landon liked getting to have an R-rating here compared to the prior PG-13 films.
Like I said, Vaughn and Newton really lean into the performances, and the film picks up considerably once we get to the body switch. Vaughn is hilarious pretending to be a girl trapped in a man’s body, and Newton’s switch from being a timid, bullied high school girl to a serial killer trapped in said girl’s body is impressive and believable. It made for a lot of predictable, but funny humor (like, of course, Vaughn being amazed at goofy having a penis is). One critic said Vaughn is better at playing a teenage girl than he is a serial killer, and well, that’s true.
Landon also really likes his dead parent trope, as Newton and her family are dealing with the fact that her dad died a year earlier, and the mother has turned into an alcoholic and can’t deal with it. That plot device gives the (predictable) emotional weight, but it’s all kinda weird. For example, when running from the cops, Millie, in the Butcher’s body, escapes to a department store, which happens to be the same one that her mother, Paula (played by Katie Finneran) works at. Paula then ends up telling a complete stranger through the dressing room (so she doesn’t know it’s the Butcher) that her husband died, and she’s worried about smothering her daughter, and unbeknownst to her, she’s having this heart-to-heart she’s never had with Millie. But it’s weird? It’s not something you’d expect to see in real life even remotely.
In general, the script plays as you might expect. If you saw the trailer or even know the premise, you can sort of expect the beat-by-beat here. There’s even the horror trope of the killer coming back at the end, although that didn’t make much sense. The Butcher was shot in the chest numerous times by the police. Okay, it’s a slasher, he’s alive, but where are the bullet holes in his chest? Did he switch t-shirts? But also, the body switch mythos didn’t make sense. When they switch bodies the first time, it doesn’t happen for a while actually. The Butcher stabs Millie with the mystical dagger, and then hours later, when they wake up in the morning, their bodies are switched, whereas at the end when the dagger stabbing happens, the switch is instantaneous.
I know I’m giving it a lot of thought, and I’m okay with a movie being goofy — after all, it’s a body-switching slasher comedy film — but I still want the universe its inhabiting to make sense.
Everyone is also quite dumb and quite mean. To the point of being too much. I get it being hammed up, but the first 15 minutes really shoehorns in the fact that Millie is bullied and disliked, especially with an overly obnoxious woodshop teacher. Virtually everyone who dies in this film? Unlikable. That’s not a good thing. I don’t want to root for the killer to viciously kill these unlikable people.
Secondly, something that was quite odd to me is that Millie likes a kid named Booker (played by Uriah Shelton), and he likes her, too. Once he realizes the Butcher and Millie have switched bodies, and that they both like each other, Booker wants to kiss Millie … when she’s still inside of the Butcher’s body. Um. That was just weird to me. I didn’t get that at all. Yes, you like Millie, but this is a serial killer’s body!
And like I said, aside from everyone being unlikable besides Millie (and her two friends, Nyla (played by Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (played by Misha Osherovich), everyone acts so dumb, particularly the trope of doofus small town cops, which maybe that’s another Scream homage. For example, when the cops come at the end to the homecoming party, surrounded by 50 partying kids, they fire warning shots in the air to disperse the crowd. What the heck?
Anyhow, I’m probably nitpicking. Some of the scripting was off for me in terms of bringing together a cohesive, original story that stuck to its stated mythos. But again, fortunately, we had two leads who killed their parts, and made it hilarious. For that alone, I would recommend the film. It’s a fun enough popcorn time (although good grief, how does anyone eat more than half a small portion of popcorn?).
Overall, I appreciate Landon’s comedy-horror efforts at this point, and he’s a name to watch, even if I didn’t find this latest effort to be a rousing success.
Have you seen this film yet? What did you think?