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"FREAKY"
(2020) (Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Horror Comedy: A teenage girl has 24 hours to reverse an ancient Aztec curse that's caused her to switch bodies with a hulking serial killer.
PLOT:

Things aren't going great for high school senior Millie Kessler (KATHRYN NEWTON). While she has good friends in classmates Nyla (CELESTE O'CONNOR) and Josh (MISHA OSHEROVICH) and has a boy, Booker (URIAH SHELTON), who seems interested in her, she must contend with bullies of both genders at school and a mom at home, Coral (KATIE FINNERNAN), who's still reeling from her husband's death a year ago. While Millie has put her life on hold to support her mom, her cop sister, Charlene (DANA DRORI), has a strained relationship with their mom, especially regarding the latter's drinking.

But that seems like nothing compared to what happens next. And that's an encounter of The Butcher of Blissfield (VINCE VAUGHN), long believed to be just a longstanding rumor, but who turns out to be a very real serial killer. When he tries to murder Millie with an ancient Aztec dagger he's recently acquired, his aim is off and he only wounds her. But due to the spell on that dagger, they end up switching bodies in the middle of the night. Suddenly the killer finds himself in a teenage girl's body while she finds herself stuck in the hulking body of the maniac.

With just 24 hours before the body-switching curse becomes permanent, Millie tries to convince her scared friends that it's really her, all while The Butcher bemoans being stuck in a weaker body, but likes the fact that he now has the perfect cover to continue his murder spree.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

Let's face it -- most horror movies, especially those falling into the slasher subgenre, typically aren't exactly known as high concept films. In other words, they are what they are and a brief description of the premise usually won't draw in any newcomers.

Of course, there are some exceptions to that rule, such as "A Nightmare on Elm Street" where the serial killer did his work inside his victims' dreams. Writer/director Christopher Landon took up that mantle with "Happy Death Day" and its sequel "Happy Death Day 2U" that added a "Groundhog Day" style twist to the usual masked psychopath with a knife thriller story.

The filmmaker continues that mash-up trend with "Freaky," yet another slasher offering but this time where the killer and his would-be victim end up switching bodies a la the likes of "Like Father, Like Son," "Vice Versa" and, yes, this film's namesake, "Freaky Friday," among others. It's a creative premise that fuels this 100-minute offering, although it feels like it's dangerously close to running out of gas -- and ideas -- as things play out and ultimately come to a head.

In standard fashion, there's a prologue where two young couples discuss the legend of the Blissfield Butcher only to fall victim to him in over-the-top gruesome ways, including, natch, after one set has sex.

The story then moves on to the next day where we meet our protagonist, Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), a high school senior who's put her life -- and maybe her upcoming freshmen year in college -- on hold in order to comfort her mom (Katie Finneran). The latter is still reeling from her husband's death a year ago and has taken to drowning her sorrows via copious amounts of wine, something that doesn't sit well with Millie's older cop sister (Dana Drori).

While Millie has a small support group in her close school friends (Celeste O'Connor and Misha Osherovich), she's tormented by female bullies who pick on her attire and football jocks who think she's only "do-able" with a bag over her head. Hmmm, I wonder if some comeuppance might be in store for those kids?

That arrives, sort of, when Millie encounters The Butcher (Vince Vaughn) and he tries to off her with an ancient Aztec dagger he stole during the introductory scene. But his aim is off and with the dagger's magic activated, the two end up switching bodies at midnight.

As in other such body-switching flicks, the fun is designed to stem from the two characters realizing what's happened and trying to get used to their new bodies. And like gender-swapping flicks such as "Switch," "All of Me" and "The Hot Chick," that's exacerbated by suddenly being in the possession of different sorts of body parts.

Landon only explores the latter aspect a little -- Millie (in the Butcher's body) realizing the freedom of peeing standing up but also the pitfall of having sensitive testicles, while The Butcher (in her body) quickly figures out he now has breasts and must contend with unwelcome advances from the football players now that the killer has seriously "sexed up" his new cover.

Instead, more focus is put on the physical comedy aspect where the girl is now in a hulking body perfectly capable of dealing with bullies and then some, while the madman still has the killer instinct, but now in a petite and nowhere as strong teenage girl body. All of which means some creativity has to be tapped.

Newton and Vaughn do fine work physically and personality-wise playing with those new disparities, with her sort of channeling a deranged Nicolas Cage demeanor while Vaughn goes comically lighter. And somewhat surprisingly, some nice emotional touches show up now and then that give the flick a bit more depth than expected.

But what audiences of these sorts of films are looking for are the creative kills, if you will. Landon's ideas and the figurative and literal execution of them (and the victims) should satiate the cinematic bloodlust of such viewers (that likely would have played better in the communal experience of a packed movie theater, but what are ya gonna do during a pandemic).

Overall, I was entertained enough by the decidedly R-rated material to give the flick a passing grade. I just wish the creativity was upped a step or two above and beyond the high concept premise. "Freaky" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 3, 2020 / Posted November 13, 2020


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