Movie Review: “Freaky”

  Christopher Landon and Blumhouse collaborated in 2017 and created a comedy slasher film called Happy Death Day, a small, but enthusiastic film that took the concept of Groundhog Day and blended it with the horror genre. The film was very successful, drawing over 100 million worldwide from a miniscule production budget of less than 5 million, and received a warm reception from moviegoers and critics alike. The film even received a sequel that received a similarly warm reception, but notably doubled its production cost and had its box office return cut in half. Freaky is similar to Happy Death Day, an American comedy slasher film, as well, also directed by Christopher Landon and produced by Blumhouse Productions.

   This film, starring Vince VaughnKathryn NewtonKatie FinneranCeleste O’Connor, and Alan Ruck, was written by Landon and Michael Kennedy respectively, and, like Happy Death Day, offers a unique spin on a familiar concept. Freaky twists the plot device of Mary Rodgers’ Freaky Friday, seeing a teenage girl unintentionally switching bodies with a middle-aged serial killer. The film was released to a positive reception. Although it does not have enough accumulated consensus in comparison to Happy Death Day, the reception appears even warmer than Landon’s prior features. The reason it does not have the same accumulated consensus just yet is to do with its unique release situation.

   The film was released in November 2020 by Universal Pictures, and, then (and, as of this writing), the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major detriment to the theatrical release model. Currently, the film is shy of 15 million in theaters worldwide, which is not horrible considering the circumstances, but is a fraction of what this film likely would have made otherwise. Hopefully, the feature will be able to find a second-wind on the digital and home-video market (where I watched the film on Christmas Eve).

   I was modestly excited for Freaky, in part because of how underserved this year has been, but, also, because the film sounded like a fun, oddball spin on the horror genre, once more, akin to what Happy Death Day was. In that respect, it does mostly succeed.

   The feature follows a young-girl named Millie who is bullied and harassed by her classmates and teachers alike. Early, the feature establishes an over-the-top and tonal outlandishness toward how its characters interact and treat each other. The film is packed to the brim with a certain glossiness that I have long since associated with this “type” of film. In yesteryear, the worst traits of the slasher genre were the sexism and the general mean-spiritedness of some of its characters, sometimes justified by when that “douche-y” character gets whacked.

   This film, Happy Death Day, and, for diversity, let’s add in, Hell Fest, all have a certain “woke-ness” about them. Not that they themselves are “woke,” but that their characters can feel like caricatures of that sentiment. In a way, it is not that dissimilar to the jock in a Jason movie or a nerdy guy with the heart of gold tropes we have seen prior, but, coupled in with the meta humor and exaggerated production, can feel very unnuanced and disruptive.

   Lately, I think I have become more turned off on meta humor. I loved the Scream series, and films like Behind the MaskCabin in the WoodsCreep, and, fun, but unassuming fares like The Final Girls, but it is a genre that has a lot more misses than it does hits. I think this is because the approach in itself can cannibalize your concept, to where, the more of it you add, the more you take away. Given their penchant for modernization in this film, I believe the phrase “extra” might be appropriate to describe a lot of the film.

   The feature feels highly produced and manufactured, which edginess sprinkled in with more force than Luke Skywalker. The meme of Steve Buscemi walking into a school with a turned baseball cap and skateboard comes to mind, where it feels like they are trying very hard to depict today’s youth, but coming up shy of that, and it can sometimes make you cringe as a result.

   The early scenes of Freaky might be what I enjoy the most, which sees our masked slasher wreaking havoc in a typical slasher fashion, particularly syphoning off the Friday the 13th series. His movements and some of his attacks, for instance, harken back to it, as well as the small mannerism, like the way he tilts his head to the side or is accompanied by a key sound effect. Obviously, this is a high concept feature, but I would love for Christopher Landon to try his hand at a slasher film with less gimmickry, and a more tonally consistent approach – as opposed to his recent fares which are more like a hodgepodge of sorts.

   Thereafter, the performances are enjoyable, if, at times, hurt by what I mentioned earlier. Sometimes characters who’re meant to be likeable say things that are inherently unlikable, for instance, our main character’s friend Josh makes a rape joke, and I’m not so much offended by it as I am asking, from a story standpoint,  why am I supposed to like you?

   Certain character flaws can be meant as a way to show progression and growth of a character, but, this is not that type of film. The characterizations are simple and flimsy – our lead character has a deceased father and is estranged from her mother, and we are left with a reasonable level of comfort knowing that it will likely be resolved accordingly. The writing is simple with light attention to detail. Freaky sees our protagonist try to switch bodies back with her serial killer counterpart – all while he wreaks havoc in her body, leaving corpses in his wake. In the end, even if this all works out, how does the plethora of evidence left behind not leave her in a prison cell?

   Have you ever scene a film where it makes a callback to an otherwise useless bit of dialogue, as though suggesting a certain tautness to its narrative? That’s what I mean. This film does it often and you can usually telegraph it beforehand.

   Seeing Vince Vaughn overact and exaggerate his mannerisms to mimic a teenage girls is amusing, in that junk food kind of way, but, otherwise, it does not have a lot to say for itself. I think the cast involved was capable, but, perhaps, could have had a more consistent, thought through trajectory. This is a film with a concept I feel could have carried a good film, but I also think the fluff and white noise, detracted from that considerably.

   I would recommend Freaky in a similar way as I would recommend Happy Death Day (a callback at the end of the review to what I said at the beginning!?), because, while I don’t think it is a great film, or even a good film, it is a fun film you can watch with company or when you want to check your brain off for the night.

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