Who knew Vince Vaughn would be the perfect actor to portray a 2020 version of Tess Coleman, the body swap role that earned Jamie Lee Curtis a Golden Globe nomination for Freaky Friday? Probably only Vaughn himself, who turns in a brilliantly campy performance in Christopher Landon’s body swap horror flick Freaky.
Landon’s best known for merging Groundhog Day with House on Sorority Row in Happy Death Day (as well as writing and directing its sequel). Fans of that movie will recognize a similar approach here, too: mix Freaky Friday with Friday the 13th and you get…Freaky Friday the 13th?
The Freaky Friday part involves a 17-year-old girl named Millie (Kathryn Newton). She’s an outcast at school, relentlessly bullied save for a couple of close friends. After a football game, she ends up alone in the stadium with the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn), who just the night before, slaughtered a quartet of horny teens with wine bottles and toilet lids. When the Butcher stabs Millie with an ancient dagger, the clouds darken and the grass parts to reveal a temple made of stone. Although Millie makes it out alive, the next morning, the Butcher wakes up in her body, and she wakes up in the Butcher’s.
The swap offers the opportunity for Newton and Vaughn to play against type. As Millie, Newton is shy and sweet, relying a lot on the support of her fellow outcasts Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich). As the Butcher, though, she changes her whole style and spirit, dressing in a red biker jacket and dispatching the bullies who made Millie’s life a living hell.
However, the comedic draw here is Vaughn, who in his 6-foot-5-inch frame, gets to pretend like he’s a teenage girl. He bumps into branches, trips over rocks, and swivels his hips like a JV cheerleader. Like Jack Black in the Jumanji movies, it’s an overtly feminine characterization, but it’s not a condescending one. It’s the scenario that makes you laugh – watching the Butcher flirt with Millie’s quarterback crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton), is priceless.
Opening in theaters this Friday, Freaky’s release date was pushed back several times before the pandemic, a strategy that often suggests something’s amiss. Not so in this case, though. Landon walks the knife-edge between funny and scary without leaning one way or the other, and it works a charm.
He infuses the film with graphic, R-rated violence, too. The kills are dripping in blood splatter, making use of everything from knives to chainsaws. Editor Ben Baudhuin keeps a steady hand on the pacing, with some genuinely shocking jolts interspersed throughout. But the screenplay, by Landon and Michael Kennedy, never feels as sharp as its action.
Unfortunately, the script clings to a generic screen version of high school, where the mean girls are really mean and the jocks all seem to have transferred from Westerburg High (Heathers). It makes it easy for us to cheer whenever the Butcher tortures Millie’s bullies (good riddance). But it also makes it hard for us to care for the victims, or to tremble when the Butcher, in Millie’s body, tip toes in the back of the frame toward unsuspecting football players.
A more nuanced film would have fleshed out its students, or at least made them symbols for something greater, that way when everyone gathers at the obligatory homecoming dance, your heart is torn between killer and victim as throats are slashed and revenge is had. Still…
While fans of either Freaky Friday or Friday the 13th might not get enough of what they came for in Freaky, fans of Vaughn will get more than enough to keep them satisfied. He makes Freaky absolutely worth it.
While fans of either Freaky Friday or Friday the 13th, or both, might not leave the theater fully satisfied, fans of Vince Vaughn will love his performance in the film.