Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies) and Vince Vaughn play an insecure teenage girl and heartless serial killer who swap bodies in horror-comedy Freaky. Now in cinemas, Tony Stamp explains why it’s such a crowd-pleaser.
Are we still using the term ‘guilty pleasure’? If so then top of my list would be the Happy Death Day franchise, two films directed by Christopher Landon that mashed up a Groundhog Day-style time loop with a slasher film and a pinch of high school comedy antics.
Landon’s follow up Freaky keeps the slasher aspect and the laughs, and fuses them to another cinematic framework, the body-swap film (specifically Freaky Friday, hence the title). It announces itself with a portentous stab of music and words written across the screen in blood: ‘Wednesday the 11th’, going on to specifically homage Jason Vorhees and the Halloween series.
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In keeping with this, Landon has made the jump to an R rating, which means the gore has gone up several notches from the more family-friendly Death Days. The first few kills, in particular, are real doozies.
Freaky’s serial killer is played by Vince Vaughn of all people, making use of his imposing 6.5 ft stature to great effect, in a similar way to his turn in Brawl In Cell Block 99. Funny thing is though, once the killer has left Vaughn’s body to inhabit that of young actor Kathryn Newton (via some shenanigans involving a magic dagger, not worth dwelling on), it’s her that does the better job of playing sinister. She’s terrific (and terrifying) as she stalks and kills various members of Blissfield Highs’ student body.
Vaughn gets to be more comedic once he’s playing a teen girl trapped inside this huge man’s body, but he oversteps slightly, going a bit too broad at times. He’s better when tapping into the emotional connection with Newton’s mom, and this is Landon’s secret weapon—Freaky is gory, and funny, but remembers to keep us invested with an emotional throughline.
It leans a bit too heavily on its chirpy score at times but mostly hits that Amblin-type sweet spot. It’s fascinating to see Landon carving out a very specific niche for himself, fusing genre mashups with a distinctly queer subtext (Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy are gay) in a crowd-pleasing, popcorn-friendly package.