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Freaky Turns Out to Be an Artery-Bursting Romp

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

I don’t know about you, but I love a well-shot character entrance in a movie. When done right, it’s the most intimate of establishing shots where the body language of the character smashes into the prepared setting creating an unforgettable announcement of arrival. Thanks to a witty twist on a typically corny plot device that reintroduces our leads in different guises, Christopher Landon’s Freaky unleashes a strut of struts thirty minutes into the movie that ignites the boiling blood of this horror comedy. Step by step, it walks with confidence and runs with imagination.

Moving in silent slow-motion backed by the Chordettes’ golden oldie “Que Sera Sera,” a blond vamp wearing paired provocative reds between her leather jacket and her lipstick shade saunters right through the middle of falling confetti and cheerleader formations and into the doors of her high school. Stepping from outdoors to indoors towards a new path of people and attention, the songbird loveliness perfectly morphs into the slamming screams of “Don’t Trust Anyone” by Suicideboy$. Her smirking scowl increases with each step of her jaw-dropping strut. Sung words about desirable beauty evolve into ones of the frightening madness underneath her new exterior. 

Millie walks between surprised classmates down a hallway
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Composed by director of photography Laurie Rose (Free Fire) and cut by editor Ben Baudhuin (Colossal), this establishing shot is a telegraphing tone shift because, the day before, that blond was the mousy and sweater-clad wallflower Millie Kessler, played by Kathryn Newton of Big Little Lies. She was the target of bullies and an invisible sad sack who lost her father to cancer the year before. Her only human engagements are her sauced mother and cop sister (TV vets Katie Finneran and Dana Drori) at home and her two loyal besties at school, the word police straight arrow Nyla (Celeste O’Connor of the upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife) and flaming gay misfit Josh (The Goldfinch’s Misha Osherovich).

Now, Millie is turning everyone’s heads and her name is on everyone’s lips. Her killer look comes from having a killer inside of her. The night before, she survived an attack from the “Blissfield Butcher” only to be stabbed by an ancient dagger that caused her to swap bodies with the urban myth assailant himself. So where is the real Millie? She’s stuck inside the flabby, gray-templed, and 6’5” physique played by the former failed Norman Bates himself, Vince Vaughn.

The Blissfield Butcher holds Millie down to stab her with his dagger.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Freaky had most of you at the Blumhouse label. It had me at Vince Vaughn pretending to be a high school senior female looking the way he does. If everyone could live a day as a teenage girl, the world would be a better and kinder place and dealing with the shit they do. This setup played right into the Hall of Fame wisecracker’s gift of gab. To watch him take his formidable, frame-filling presence and flail with weak nerves, exasperated quips, and comedic fluster is an absolute hoot. This is a “girls rule” movie that flicks a big finger at male dominance through a game vessel willing to make a fool of himself.

In the opening scene of Freaky, a social justice-savvy teen says to be aware of a “straight white man’s propensity for violence.” From a soon-to-be skewered teenaged woman’s mouth to God’s ears, truer words may have never been spoken. The rub is now the dude looks like a lady, and the baton of supremacy is passed as Bear McCreary’s musical score pounds away. Getting to embody the murderous menace at a Homecoming feeding frenzy, Kathryn Newton has her own blast enacting earned retribution on anyone from gossipy bitches and letterman jacket-wearing douchebags to out-of-line adults that trigger this lesson’s stereotype damaged psyche.

The Butcher points at Millie in between two high school friends.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Sure, with pun referenced from that first lesson, Freaky still has your pursuits of a running young mark that can’t seem to get away from a walking executioner. It has its predictable bait-and-switches and rug pulls. However, this is all about the shoe being on the other foot with gender-defying gusto. The creative kills are thrills evoking gasps and giggles all the same. You gotta love a movie that lists a “silicone specialist” (props to the props of Aaron Romero) in the end credits not far from the makeup department head of Micah Laine from Alterian Studios. Much attention was given to the gore and, like the gusto, rightfully so. 

If you picture Freaky’s premise before you and say “I can’t even,” just like a lazy Millennial, do a turnaround. Retort, as another future victim in the movie does, with “not with that attitude.” Say you “can” or “fo’ sho’” or whatever the whipper-snappers are saying these days to agree. Scripted by Landon (the two Happy Death Day movies) and Bordertown writer Michael Kennedy, this mashup of body-swap comedy cliches and high school horror tropes turned out to be an artery-bursting romp.

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Written by Don Shanahan

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website "Every Movie Has a Lesson" and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication. He is also weekly movie trends columnist and occasional podcast contributor for the "Feelin' Film" podcast. As an middle school educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Indie Critics and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.

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