The problem with too many remakes, reboots and re-imaginings is clear. They have little reason for existing beyond a quest for cash.
“Freaky,” a spin on the classic body-swapping comedy “Freaky Friday,” doesn’t rest on its IP laurels.
The film turns the wacky concept into a hard-R shocker with a bleak sense of humor. Just don’t be fooled about the scare-to-joke ratio. The emphasis here is on the inventive kills and the killer casting of Vince Vaughn playing two very different souls.
Millie (Kathryn Newton) may look like a high school bombshell but her social status screams otherwise. She’s shy and withdrawn, a teen who clings to her best stereotypes (AKA friends). There’s the flamboyantly gay Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O’Connor). a wokester from the opening bell.
Her chums can’t save her from a random encounter with the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn), the town’s serial killer. He attacks her with a mystical dagger, summoning both blood and a mysterious curse. The would-be victim and killer swap bodies, leaving svelte Millie stuck within a hulking mass murderer’s frame.
Wacky high jinks AND creative kills ensue, the latter fully earning the film’s R rating. That tilts the scales in favor of horror, conjured with machine-like efficiency by director Christopher Landon (“Happy Death Day”).
Woke storytelling touches are now as common as horror movie tropes, and “Freaky” stockpiles plenty of both. What’s refreshing, though, is how it subverts our expectations on the former.
One character complains about “pronouns,” but in the context of the scene it’s both clever and true. When Millie bemoans her lack of agency, it comes as she experiences the power of a full-grown man’s body.
A throwaway moment involving a closeted teen, though, feels like a moldy ’80s trope.
The bigger surprise is how the tender moments connect. Vaughn excels at conveying Millie’s insecurities and warmth. One scene finds Millie, trapped in the killer’s body, attempting to bond with her mom without the two laying eyes on each other. In lesser hands the scene would cry out for the future fast-forward button. Vaughn sells it with sincerity, much like he apes Millie’s delicate mannerisms.
FAST FACT: Kathryn Newton has a neat side hustle should the ‘acting’ life fade to black -- golf. Her role in “Paranormal Activity 4” forced her to withdraw from the 2012 Women’s Open. Still, Golf Digest dubbed her the “Best Golfer in Hollywood.”
Horror movies often make do with mediocre actors, but they shine when stars take center stage. Newton is all of 23, but she hangs with Vaughn move for move. She’s even menacing as the “Butcher,” causing anyone near her to flinch at her murderous gaze.
The film’s pacing sags a time or two, but it cheerfully returns to its signature gimmick.
Like most modern shockers, “Freaky” doesn’t quite know how to wrap its own story, and a few of the supporting characters are even more one-dimensional than Millie’s friends. Poor Alan Ruck, perhaps cast as a high school themed Easter Egg, is stuck playing a cruel teacher who exists solely to be punished later on.
If that’s a spoiler you’ve never seen a horror movie before.
Otherwise, “Freaky” plays out as fresh as a Blumhouse production can be … teetering toward woke platitudes but savvy enough to pull back in time for the genre treats. And there’s more than a few to be found in this one, even if sequel potential is both strained and wildly unnecessary.
HiT or Miss: “Freaky” delivers a post-Halloween treat thanks to two engaged stars and a script willing to push past woke posturing.