Film & TV

Freaky Is a Decent Play on an Old Formula

Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn in Freaky.
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn in Freaky.
Body-swap movies aren't an uncommon occurrence, with everything from The Hot Chick to Freaky Friday permanently embedded in our cultural consciousness. Christopher Landon's latest film, Freaky, takes the premise and applies it to the slasher genre, resulting in a fun — if not especially ambitious — play on an old formula.

Freaky brings together high-school student Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) and the notorious Blissfield Butcher serial killer (Vince Vaughn) when an ancient magical dagger he uses to stab her causes them to swap bodies. With only 24 hours to reverse the curse, Millie (in the Butcher's body) has to pair up with her friends to stop the Butcher (in Millie's body) from permanently keeping her body and also murdering her classmates.

On its surface, Landon's premise seems like the perfect follow-up to his previous work, Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, which elevated lazy scripting with delightful deaths and Jessica Rothe's abundant charisma. The promise of a body-swap slasher promises the kind of shenanigans and creative kills that often seem missing in contemporary horror. And, to be sure, there is fun to be had in watching Vaughn navigate playing a teen girl trying to convince friends, family members, and a crush that she is, in fact, trapped in the body of a serial killer.

But the problem with Freaky is that Landon and cowriter Michael Kennedy are unsure of what to do with their characters, resulting in confused plotting that drags on instead of indulging in critiquing and killing the Gen-Z-ers it's depicting. It doesn't lean into the body count that a Friday the 13th movie should offer — disappointing for a film that takes great care to emphasize the date both in the film and in its release date. Nor does it take advantage of a certain level of self-awareness that it hints at, which could have given us something far more Scream-adjacent.

Where the Happy Death Day films felt like a showcase for Rothe's talent, Newton gets the short end of the stick here, reduced to awkward murder-y glares as a killer inhabits her body. And for all the wasted potential of the supporting cast — including Succession's Alan Ruck and Tony winner Katie Finneran — those who shine best alongside Vaughn are the trio of Millie's high-school friends: Nyla (Celeste O'Connor), Josh (Misha Osherovich), and Booker (Uriah Shelton).

The chemistry between this portion of the cast really sells the material, their fun quips with each other proving as entertaining to watch as some of Vaughn's camp tendencies what with him trying to kiss his teen crush and learning how to pee in a man's body for the first time. Nonbinary actor Osherovich is a particular treat in their role, poking fun at a number of white gay male stereotypes (from taking offense at language policing to watching Real Housewives of New York as a distraction from the serial killer bound and gagged next to him).

Freaky could have been an even more unabashedly queer, camp, and entertaining film if it'd tried a little harder, but it's enjoyable enough as it is. One can only hope that Landon will eventually pair up with a writer that allows him to indulge in his giddier sensibilities than what his past collaborators have.

Freaky. Starring Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, and Alan Ruck. Written by Michael Kennedy and Christopher Landon. Directed by Christopher Landon. Rated R. 101 minutes. Opens in theaters Friday, November 13.