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Review: Freaky Is a Delightful Horror-Comedy With No Shortage of Either

Kathryn Newton in Freaky

The horror-comedy is an incredibly hard type of movie to nail, too often lacking in both descriptors. We seem to be in a bit of a heyday for the genre though, led maybe most notably by Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day. (He directed the first film and wrote and directed the second—lesser but still fun—installment.) Landon is back now with Freaky, a horror-comedy body-swap teen-buddy movie that delivers on all fronts.

Freaky stars Vince Vaughn as a classic horror movie archetypal serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher, who’s currently on a spree of killing local teens. One of those teens is Millie, played by Blockers’ Kathryn Newton. Except when the Butcher attacks, Millie doesn’t die; instead, the two end up swapping bodies thanks to the killer’s decision to stab her with an ancient Aztec relic instead of his usual weapons. Millie has only 24 hours to find and stop the killer now wearing her face and body before the curse becomes permanent.

There’s nothing all that original about Freaky but that’s not necessarily important. Landon makes the most of it, in fact, by leaning in hard to horror tropes without trying to subvert them. And the title explicitly telegraphs its nod to the well-trod body-swap genre. The movie isn’t trying to convince us it’s something new, it’s just committed to being a great version of things we already love.

Freaky is a well-paced gory (if not especially scary) romp with a fun script but what makes it special is the performances from Vaughn and Newton. After the body-swapping, each captures the other’s persona in ways that, on their surface, are just spot-on impressions. And while they definitely are that, there’s also a lot of nuance to each. Vaughn captures Millie’s teen ingenue charm but also her insecurities without ever mocking her. Every nervous nail-bite and awkward smile is played 100% earnestly.

Similarly, Newton’s performance is stellar. Having seen the trailer, I knew that the body swap would result in a makeover of Millie’s drab, unintentionally normcore image. I was curious to see how they’d do that and prepared to laugh at the idea that this reclusive psychopathic murderer who sleeps on a bare mattress would know how to give a teenage girl a blowout and the perfect smokey eye.

Instead, the details of the transformation are realistic (an essential move for any movie with such a fantastical plot) and also carry a deeper message. There’s no real makeover here, but the Butcher puts Millie’s body in a badass jacket (stolen from her sister’s closet), a coat of red lipstick, and carries himself with the self-confidence of a cis white male serial killer, and suddenly everyone sees this girl differently.

It’s so much more realistic than the classic sort of She’s All That she-was-hot-all-along teen girl makeover because while no one would deny that Kathryn Newton was gorgeous from the start of the movie, the change in others’ perception of her comes from the change in how she (or he, being the Butcher at that point) sees herself, not the other way around. It also isn’t even important to Millie. Sure, she doesn’t want to be bullied and she wants the guy she likes to notice her, but giving her a new look is inconsequential to these goals, which is really refreshing in this sort of scenario.

This idea of how existing in another person’s body can change your perception of yourself is a current that runs throughout the whole film. It veers sometimes into heavy-handedness but (in my opinion) never crosses that line in a major way. It’s a movie with a message but it’s not preachy. It’s funny and goofy but not at the expense of its characters. It’s horror without exploiting its Final Girl. It’s a lot of things and it manages to nail all of them.

Freaky appropriately opens (unfortunately for now, only) in theaters Friday, November 13th.

(image: Brian Douglas/Universal Pictures)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.