Freaky Review: A Smart and Gleefully Gruesome Slasher

Writer and director Christopher Landon has become known over the last few years for his ultra-enjoyable horror mash-ups. After writing several Paranormal Activity films (and directing one), Landon made his mark with the wildly entertaining Happy Death Day franchise. On a base level, these movies stem from the idea, "What if Groundhog Day was about murder?" It sounds simple, but the notion works incredibly well in both Happy Death Day films, creating something fun and unique out of a concept that most would scoff at. Landon's latest film, Freaky, follows that same mash-up structure, and the results might be even better this time around. Not only is Freaky as sharp and hilarious as Happy Death Day, it's 10 times more gruesome, in the best way possible.

If Happy Death Day was "Groundhog Day meets Final Destination," Freaky is "Friday the 13th meets Freaky Friday." A serial killer known as the "Blissfield Butcher" (Vince Vaughn) is starting out on another stint of gruesome murders, and he catches shy high school student Millie (Kathryn Newton) alone at a football stadium one night. When the Butcher stabs Millie with a cursed blade, the killer and victim switch bodies, with just 24 hours until the switch becomes permanent. The Butcher spends the next day continuing his spree in the unassuming body of a teenage girl, while Millie has to convince her friends of her true identity and stop the slaying before it's too late.

Based on the trailer for Freaky, and the overall tone of the Happy Death Day movies, it's easy to go into Freaky expecting something fairly light-hearted and not all that scary. It seems more about the fun than the murder. Well, Landon opts to have his cake and eat it, too, tossing out any notion that Freaky isn't a legitimate slasher flick in the opening minutes.

This movie contains some of the most gnarly and creative kill scenes I've seen in a long time. From hooks to toilets to walls, anything and everything can be used as a weapon, and it often is. There's one scene, in particular, involving a table saw that gets really gruesome. These are kills that Jason Voorhees would be proud of, and die-hard horror fans are sure to appreciate.

Unlike the Friday the 13th films, though, Freaky manages to be an immensely fun time without a single shred of irony. This film has a lot of fun with its premise and its tone, but takes its characters and their feelings incredibly seriously. Millie is going through a lot with her mom and sister, following the loss of her dad a year earlier. That pain is dealt with in some very real ways throughout the film, allowing Millie to grow and learn, even while she's stuck inside the body of a serial killer. Even when the intimate scenes get funny, they never stop being thoughtful. It's an impressive line to walk with a movie that delights in violence as much as this one, and Landon walks it perfectly.

Freaky wouldn't work the way it does without the commanding performances of its leads. Vaughn has such an imposing, powerful stature, but he's made a career out of playing the "straight man in an uncomfortable scenario" character. His take on a high school girl dealing with friends, crushes, family drama, all while trying to survive a mass murderer is almost effortlessly hilarious, though there isn't one time when you don't believe he's Millie. He sells it and doesn't hold back. The same can be said for Newton, who is menacing in her portrayal of a killer. She's downright terrifying at times. Both of these roles were cast flawlessly.

Too often, horror-comedies either skew too far in one director on the other. Some are simply comedies that are set in a scary location or take place during the zombie apocalypse; some are horror movies with poor senses of humor that manage to miss on both elements. Freaky manages to excel in both, while also adding some high-stakes drama and effective commentary on the genres themselves. Freaky is something we'll be talking about this one for quite a long time.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Freaky opens in theaters and drive-ins on November 13th.