The more horror movies you see, the more you get numbed to them and demand better. Actually, as I was typing that, I realized that’s the same for all types of movies, but with horror it’s especially true. You watch some classic terror productions to get creeped out, you watch some new ones to get more creeped out, and before you know it, you’ve braced yourself for just about any type of occurrence. The premise of main horror movies is generally inflexible, because if it tries to deviate by, say, not resorting to killing, popout scares, final confrontations, and loud noises, it’s often seen as not scary or boring. One example which tried this and failed to please audiences, me included, was It Comes At Night. But Christopher Landon’s been sending out some edgy horror material that has actually worked recently, and we can add this new film to the list gleefully.
Kathryn Newton of Blockers, a hilarious film, and Detective Pikachu, a masterful film, plays Millie Kessler, an introvert who does volunteer work as the school mascot and whose favourite film is Pitch Perfect 2, a movie I was very harsh on when it came out five years ago and I have a slightly different take on now. Millie thinks she’s so uninteresting that if her life were a horror film she’d be the first to die. Well, she’s not the first victim to the Blissfield Butcher in this movie, someone who relentlessly and thoughtlessly kills a camping group of teens out for some beer and some different ways of partying. On Thursday the 12th, Millie is supposed to be picked up from school by her mom, but she fell asleep after an evening of drinking, which she does to try to ease her grief from her dead husband. Millie’s police officer older sister Charlotte drives to pick her up, but the butcher sees her as easy satisfaction for bloodshed. But the weapon he uses to try and get her has ideas of its own, and while Millie is both terrified and on the run while being in the butcher’s body, the butcher in Millie’s body doesn’t see this as a disadvantage. Well, physically, maybe a bit, but he doesn’t see this as much of a pressing issue.
The best way to still dazzle longtime horror movie fans, in my opinion, is three steps: 1) Make characters we care about and really don’t want to see die. 2) Don’t rely on CGI and jump scares to frighten the audience. Create and rely on a premise that is legitimately terrifying. 3) Look at the general setup for horror films, and put some twists and screws in it. Freaky falls under the first and third categories. We do not want Millie’s friends killed, primarily because they’re loyal and funny, and there are more than a few instances where we feel they’ll be most likely killed. It does not wholeheartedly follow the third, mainly because we see another predictable slaughter in the first few minutes, and the killings aren’t that scary or upsetting because they’re so familiar. But the true movie is just starting, and when we’re introduced to characters such as, an alcoholic mother keeping her arms tight around her youngest daughter, an older sister who’s taut and protective, a brave daring and protective best friend and another gay best friend who’s pouty about how small the dating world is for him (it’s true), and it’s utilizing the Freaky-Friday idea (I mean, duh) we realize this movie didn’t invent these characters just to be bludgeoned in front of our eyes.
What I liked so much about Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day films (and I really hope the rumours of a third one are true) is they entirely knew what they were doing, meshing scares, laughs, romance and even effective mysteries. They knew they weren’t the scariest movies out there but they embraced that, creating a layered, progressive and badass heroine from Jessica Rothe and focusing on being fun between some actually sweet jump scares. The second one, 2U, was a bit too heavy on the sci-fi to stand on the same shoulder as the first, but it also knew its identity and went to town. Freaky knows that it tries to up the horror a bit by making not just the protagonist the target this time, and it is a bit of a guessing game who will and will not be killed.
The “Freaky Friday” premise this was inspired by has so much potential, but it almost never works out well. All I really ask for in the body-switching and age-switching idea is for the switchees to explore and react to the strange new world, allowing both of them to learn about their different worlds and be hilariously off-target. And Vaughn delivers on being off-target. He reminded me of Jack Black from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, except Vaughn being more muscular and therefore more fitting for the role of a Michael-Myers-esque heartless bloodthirsty beast. And Newton is believable as a demented, hungry thing the devil may call a shell of a soul.
I wouldn’t call Freaky a masterpiece, and I think it’s because its plot is sometimes overtypical. I kind of wish we got more hints as to why this butcher is so shut down. Sometimes you just have to go for the zero-dimensional antagonist to prevent hesitation towards killing your target but it piqued my curiosity. It was also sometimes uneven when Newton is at first looking totally murderous but can then switch gears to believably act like a victim. But I would call it a fun enough popcorn flick with a terrifically unconventional wrap-up. It refreshingly makes us think twice it’s going to end on a familiar note, and it does not. More movies should take notes here.