With life getting back to some semblance of order, I was able to make it to the movies to see Freaky, which I meant to see last weekend but Tropical Storm Eta had other plans. Those who know me best, and pay attention to new releases, probably would have expected to me see The Last Vermeer. It did look good. However, I am guessing that most people willing to “brave” the cineplex these days would see the former. Now, I have documented my many issues with horror films, and while Freaky is an example of the slasher sub-genre of that classic trope, it does at least attempt some originality. At least for me. Since I do not count myself an aficionado of horror, there may be something I am missing. And while I do not necessarily recommend seeing it, there were a few moments that I found entertaining.
Freaky begins in a pretty standard, slasher film way, and I started getting annoyed early on. Stop me if you have heard this one before: a small group of high school teenagers are partying by themselves, but then they split up at one point only to be horrifically murdered one-by-one by some crazed maniac on the loose. Then cut to our main character, Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), your average high school senior awaking to another day. It becomes apparent that her home life is a little strained since her father passed away, and her mom, Paula (Katie Finneran), is having some trouble coping. For Millie it takes the form of mom clinging to their relationship. For her sister, police officer Charlene “Char” (Dana Drori), it is mom’s drinking that is the problem. At any rate, shortly after Millie arrives at school she learns of the brutal deaths of four of her classmates, though her two closest friends, Nyla Chones (Celeste O’Connor) and John Detmer (Misha Osherovich), do not seem too phased. With the so-called Blissfield Buthcher (Vince Vaughn) still at large, the school decides to cancel its planned homecoming dance, but goes ahead with the football game anyway. Though caring nothing for sports, Millie attends because she is the one in the school’s mascot costume, and because she has a crush on Booker Strode (Uriah Shelton), one of the players on the team. When the game ends, Nyla and Josh offer to take Millie home, but she elects to stay and wait for her mother, who unfortunately is passed out drunk and leaves her at the school. Of course, this is when the Butcher shows up. A brief but futile chase ensues before Millie is pinned down and the Butcher delivers the death blow. Or does he? You see, he uses this special knife stolen from the house of his first victims, and one that apparently has some ancient Aztec curse on it that causes the wielder to swap bodies with whoever it touches. It sounds silly, but work with me here. The next day each awake, with the Butcher’s conscious inside of Millie’s, and vice versa. Okay, this is going to make for some awkward descriptions, so for the next part just understand that whenever I talk about Millie she is in the body of a large, middle aged man, and the Butcher is an eighteen year old girl. Millie decides to track down her friends, believing they are the only ones who will truly believe her. When she is able to do so, they figured out the nature of the knife thanks to the internet and realize they have twenty-four hours to reverse the process or it will be permanent. The problem is, though, that the knife had been seized as evidence by the police and is locked away in their station. Hence they not only have to capture a serial killer, albeit in a more pint-sized but evidently still quite deadly form, and break into a police station. They manage to do all these things and Millie stabs the Butcher, reversing the curse. The Butcher is then gunned down by the police. But because this film is what it is, they had to have one last encounter in the Kessler residence. There, mom and sisters finish off the Butcher and the film ends.
There are some clever twists and turns in Freaky, such as Booker’s watch being five minutes ahead when it reaches midnight, thus giving Millie the time to plunge the Aztec dagger into the Butcher. And then there were some things that did not make sense, like Char being alone in the most dimly lit police station ever when they attempt to take back the knife. I do not reject the film for these reasons, though. I do not think it should be watched by the majority of people because it is bloody and irreverent. The murders committed by the Butcher are excessively gruesome, either as a male or female, and there were a few moments where I had to avert my gaze. It may just be me, but I have trouble with such scenes, though I do feel that nobody needs such images in their heads. There is also a great deal of coarse language, and a bit of underage drinking and sex, though not as gratuitous as the violence. One other scene I could have done without is the one where Millie as the Butcher and Booker make out in the back of Josh’s car. Now, the moment is played for laughs because, haha, a man in his fifties and a teenage boy are kissing. Granted, in context Millie is seen as a girl even though she is in a man’s body, but it is still pretty uncomfortable. As a former youth minister, all I could think of even before their lips met was Safe Environment violation! In sum, I feel there is enough cleverness in other parts of the film that we could have done without this bit.
If you can handle the more troublesome aspects of Freaky that I have difficulty with, then the reason to keep watching is Vince Vaughn’s performance. He has become more known for his comedic roles, but the first movie I remember him in was of an ill-fated remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1998). In this older movie, Vaughn plays the disturbed killer Norman Bates. Because Freaky has both funny and terrifying parts, Vaughn thus has the acting chops to pull off such a multi-faceted role. I daresay he does it better than Kathryn Newton, who is forced to do the same thing, but she is not bad either. Still, Vaughn steals the show. Seeing him behave like a teenage girl was worth the price of admission, if nothing else. I genuinely laughed when he proves to Millie’s friends that he was in fact Millie by performing the cheer she typically does in the mascot costume. Good stuff.
As much as I enjoyed Vince Vaughn in Freaky, I still would not tell people see it. It is not completely devoid of morals. The relationship between Millie and her mom undergoes the kind of maturation you would want, with Paula agreeing to ease off on the drinking and give her daughter more space. I am also not too bothered by Josh’s character being homosexual, and I always like to take such opportunities to remind the world that the Church does not teach the faithful to hate the gay community. No, the main reason this movie does not get The Legionnaire‘s stamp of approval is because it revels just a bit too much in its debauchery. Then again, you are probably not watching such a movie for a deeper message.