Freaky 2020 Directed by Christopher Landon. Courtesy of an enchanted dagger, a legendary serial killer and a teen victim switch bodies. Starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton.
In the tiny town of Blissfield, the high school Homecoming football game and subsequent dance is a pretty big deal. The only problem is that an elusive serial killer strikes every year, leaving a trail of slaughtered teens in the days leading up to Homecoming. And so far, the so-called Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) has left behind no witnesses. We learn this courtesy of a group of teens partying in a mansion belonging to one of their friends. The place is filled with tribal art and antiquities from around the world, as the mansion’s owners are wealthy art collectors. It’s two days before Homecoming, and the kids are ready to cut loose. After laying out the basic exposition for us, they make all the classic slasher movie mistakes. One goes to the wine cellar to fetch more bottles, a couple has sex, and one fellow wanders off alone to explore. He discovers the latest artifact purchased by the collectors, which is an ancient Mayan dagger in a glass case. Shortly after, the Butcher shows up and lays waste to our revelers.
This scene is intentionally reminiscent of Scream, right down to the shot of the shocked parents coming home and finding their murdered daughter hanging. And while the general tone of the film is comedic, most of the kill scenes aren’t played for laughs and neither is the killer’s mindset and personality. This isn’t Scary Movie. In fact, there’s a scene where Vince Vaughn delivers a rather chilling monologue that isn’t aiming for silliness.
After all the killing, the Butcher notices the strange dagger and pockets it. And we then meet 17 year old Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton). She’s still grieving her late father and dealing with her alcoholic mother and domineering older sister, a local police officer named Charlene. Millie is bullied at school because her family isn’t particularly well off and her outdated clothes come from Discount Bonanza, a local store where her mother is a manager. She and her family have a difficult relationship, and each have a hard time verbalizing the kind of emotional truths that need to be said. Millie also has an unrequited crush on local hunk Booker and sends him anonymous poems.
Millie performs as the football team’s mascot, an enormous beaver, during the Homecoming game. Her drunken mother passes out on the couch, leaving Millie without a ride home after the game. But that’s okay, because the Butcher is happy to take care of her. He chases the teen onto the football field and stabs her with the dagger, which results in the injury instantly appearing on his own flesh. Shocked and bleeding, he is chased off by the arrival of Charlene. Millie, dazed, survives the attack and the dagger is taken into evidence by the police. On the blade’s hilt is a strange inscription in Latin. Meanwhile, Charlene circulates a police sketch of the killer’s face.
After a night of bizarre nightmares and tossing and turning, Millie opens her eyes in the morning light. She looks at the boy band posters and pig-shaped alarm clock in her room as if seeing them for the first time. Because, well, she is. Or rather, the Butcher is. To cut down on the confusion, we’ll call her Bad Millie. She finds a mirror and is somewhat taken aback by the fact that she’s now a petite blonde girl. At the breakfast table, Bad Millie eats with her hands and stares with cold curiosity at Charlene. She’s reminded that she has to go to school, and dons a red leather jacket stolen from Charlene’s closet. She also undergoes a makeover and a new hairstyle. Newton’s performance is very Terminator-like, in that way that Robert Patrick conveyed intent without much dialogue. His emotionless face and cold stare spoke volumes. And the red jacket reminded me of the leather outfit worn by the TX Terminatrix from Terminator 3.
At school, Bad Millie begins killing and discovers two things:
- Murdering people is much harder in a smaller, weaker body.
- Getting away with it is a snap when you’re a teenage girl.
Meanwhile, the Butcher’s body wakes up in a bone-filled hovel on the bad side of town. Good Millie is horrified to learn that she’s now a 6-foot tall man, and she immediately heads for her friends Nyla and Josh at school. After some understandable disbelief, they come to believe that Millie is now a dude. The trio then meets Bad Millie, who is busy sawing the wood shop teacher (Alan Ruck) in half. Bad Millie takes full advantage of the existence of Charlene’s police sketch and sics the cops on her old body. After some sleuthing involving the dagger’s inscription, Nyla learns that the body swap becomes permanent in 24 hours. They must acquire the dagger from the police, trap Bad Millie and reverse the spell before the big Homecoming dance ends.
And also, not die.
Freaky is a loving homage to 1980’s slashers, dipped in sweet body swap sauce. They mine every situation for maximum awkwardness, such as when Millie’s crush Booker finally confesses his secret love for her while she’s a man. It also uses the body swap format as a means to reveal certain truths. While hiding out at Discount Bonanza, Good Millie meets her mother. Behind the face of a stranger, she’s finally able to indirectly talk about her dad’s death and emotionally connect with her only living parent.
It’s a surprisingly touching scene.
Meanwhile, Bad Millie is accosted by a group of football players who plan to end the Homecoming dance by gang raping her. It’s an interesting scene, because the Butcher has ruthlessly preyed on many girls, and is now facing victimization by predators. The blood soaked shoe is on the other foot.
This is a film that came along at a time when we desperately needed a fun diversion, and the fact that it was handled so well and embraced the concept so fully is gratifying. It would be nothing, though, without the commitment to the part from Vince Vaughn. From the moment he emerges from a shower room with a towel wrapped around his (short) hair and another towel drawn up to his chest to hide non-existent breasts, he’s on fire. His height and general bulk takes Millie time to get used to, but she discovers how to use his incredible strength against attackers.
In a way, Freaky is a twisted empowerment tale. Millie gains confidence and finally speaks her mind while trapped in the Butcher’s body, and her evil counterpart discovers that no one suspects that a killer lurks behind the face of an angel.
Body count: 10
- A man is forced to swallow a broken glass wine bottle, slitting his throat from the inside.
- A woman is beaten to death with a toilet seat.
- A man is stabbed in the head with a shattered tennis racket.
- A woman is impaled on a spear.
- A woman is turned to ice in a cryogenic chamber.
- A man is cut completely in half vertically with a table saw.
- A man has his throat slit with a broken bottle.
- A man is fatally castrated with a chainsaw.
- A man is killed with a baling hook.