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Freaky ★★★★

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Director: Christopher Landon

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Uriah Shelton, Alan Ruck, Dana Drori, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Katie Finneran

Released: 2nd of July

Think about the times you’ve somehow been coaxed into going onto the ghost train or into the scary maze at a funfair or theme park. You’re basically bricking it the moment the music starts, waiting for the next person, creature or thing to make you jump out of your skin – but through all of your fist-clenching and eye-wrenching, you quietly love the thrill. This is how it felt watching Freaky, the newest slasher-comedy by writer-director Christopher Landon (Happy Death Day, the Paranormal Activity saga).

We know by now that the body swap genre knows no bounds, and in this instance, we are treated to a bloodthirsty Vince Vaughan as the ‘Blissfield Butcher’ trading places with timid seventeen-year-old Millie Kesler (Kathryn Newton). The opening sequence throws you into the gruesome deep end; with the initially masked killer going on a murder spree at the expense of a group of innocent teens that have been felicitously discussing the Butcher urban legend. Given that we are delighted to not one, but two chainsaw scenes, this slasher will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But for those that revel in the debauchery, this is cinematic bliss. 

The logic behind the swap itself is farcical; pertaining to some form of ancient Spanish dagger named ‘La Dola’ which enjoys its ridicule on Friday the 13th, of course. As the serial killer fails in his full execution of Millie, a parallel stab wound on the shoulder gives way to a 24-hour window of mortal exchange for the two protagonists. With the help of charming high school friends, a corporeally incarcerated Millie must track down her own body to duplicate the stabbing and reclaim normality.

Freaky unabashedly nods to classics on both the body-swap and slasher-comedy shelves; like namesake Freaky FridayScream and Friday the 13th. Amongst proud tropes, however, this both hilarious and gruesome novel gratifyingly carves out its own space. The film quickly seesaws between a tongue-and-cheek high school flick to scenes of gory massacre and plenty of jumpscares. It doesn’t quite let you ease into either rhythm for too long, and it’s this nail-biting pace that keeps it alive. There’s no sitting still with a serial killer on the loose, after all.

Both Newton and Vaughan excellently portray their counterparts, though ultimately Vince steals the show with his seemingly effortless embodiment of a teenage girl. Whether it be the awkward demeanour around his (her) crush, the introverted nail-biting, or the pitch-perfect mascot routine recital, Freaky delivers with every ounce of his role-reversal screentime. What a ghost ride lacks which the film certainly makes up for, is the ability to make you cry from not only fear but from roaring laughter. Landon knew exactly what he was doing in this execution – without taking itself too seriously, he served up the piece de resistance in the form of a humble middle-aged actor whose typecast filmography needed a revival. 

Millie’s backstory works, having lost her father a year before and being the victim of pervasive bullying from mean girls, jocks and teachers. If nothing else, it makes for some extremely satisfying revenge deaths given the butcher has no insight into their tormenting and, at times, repulsive ways. It does lose out sometimes in its lack of refinement, and perhaps unnecessarily attempts emotional resolution by ironing out a complicated maternal relationship through a dressing room door. 

Instead, Landon decidedly capitalises on silliness at all the right moments – from the minor details like openly gay best friend Josh (Misha Osherovich) throwing frozen tater tots at the butcher in defence to an outrageous kiss scene with Millie’s high school crush Booker (Uriah Shelton). Given that the slasher-comedy doesn’t usually seek out an artistic appearance, Freaky feels acutely polished. The narrative builds on the high schooler side where it is needed and aptly leaves the murderer motiveless and storiless. Adding to this, the cinematography and editing are stylish; creating much visual flow between scenes. For its jocular and youthful nature, it successfully strikes chords of wokeness in its lighthearted commentary on gender and misogyny. Within the first few minutes, an ill-fated teen asserts a foreshadowing thought:  “Don’t underestimate a straight white man’s propensity for violence”.

Although being slapped in the face with bloodshed and high school tête-à-tête isn’t for everyone, this thrilling chronicle ticks many boxes. The cinema seats have missed us, and us them, and this exhilarating and hilarious film is another to be enjoyed most suitably in the still, dark auditorium setting with like-minded genre fans. Freaky will have you gripping your seat in terror and then falling off that very seat in hysterics within minutes (“hashtag stress-cited”). Above all, you don’t want to miss this boisterous career-defining moment for Vince Vaughan.

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