Writer-director￼ Christopher Landon grabbed a lot of attention with his surprisingly fun horror-comedy “Happy Death Day” and its not-as-good but still entertaining sequel. Of course those weren’t Landon’s first forays into genre. He wrote the crafty 2007 thriller “Disturbia” and several sequels in the “Paranormal Activity” franchise. But “Happy Death Day” showed his knack for blending horror, humor and a healthy helping of nostalgia.
Landon’s latest film “Freaky” attempts to strike that same chord but with mixed results. Produced by Blumhouse (isn’t everything these days?), “Freaky” borrows from countless slasher movies and its basic concept is inspired by Mary Rodgers’ popular children’s novel “Freaky Friday”. But this is certainly no kids movie. On one hand it pours on the blood and gore often to a hilariously gruesome degree. On the other hand it can be needlessly crude with dialogue that’s nothing short of cringe-worthy.
The film is set in the not-so-appropriately-named town of Blissfield. It opens with the brutal murder of four insufferable teens who could have been plucked from any number of 80’s slasher flicks. One by one they are slaughtered in absurdly graphic fashion by a deranged serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn). The sequence is intentionally packed with every trick, every trope, and every stupid character decision from the genre’s history. It’s a pretty fun tone-setter with several cool nods to horror fans.
From there the movie introduces us to Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), a shy and unassuming high school senior still hurting from the recent death of her father. At home her clingy mother Paula (Katie Finneran) uses booze to cope with the loss while her older sister Charlotte (Dana Drori), a police officer, has shut herself off emotionally. It’s not much better at Blissfield Valley High where Millie is constantly bullied by an endless parade of unlikable dimwits and snotty preppies.
Like Halloween in Haddonfield, high school homecoming means death in Blissfield. After the big game Millie finds herself stranded at the football field with no ride home. Fresh off killing the teen fodder in the film’s opening, the Butcher spots Millie, chases her onto the field and stabs her with a mystical knife he stole from an earlier scene that somehow causes them to swap bodies. Yes, it’s utterly ridiculous and the film never even attempts to explain it. But I’m kinda glad. The movie knows it’s silly so why waste time trying to make sense of it?
Instead the movie leans into its two biggest strengths – Vaughn and Newton. Vaughn is especially funny channeling the personality and sensibilities of a terrified teenage girl. Newton actually gets the tougher assignment and pulls it off remarkably well. Unfortunately the two are surrounded by a slew of supporting characters ranging from bland and shallow to woefully obnoxious. Of course many are intentionally written as specific character types, but that doesn’t make them or their sometimes dreadful dialogue any easier to digest.
Eventually the film’s premise begins to run out of gas, only making it to the finish on the backs of Vaughn and Newton. As a whole the horror elements work pretty well from the hysterically over-the-top kills to the rare moments when the film quiets down and builds tension. The humor is far more uneven. It’s at its best when it’s spoofing the horror genre. Unfortunately it insists on going down the path of other uninspired teen comedies which undermines its potential. So I was left in the frustrating position of admiring certain parts of “Freaky” and wishing I could toss out the rest. “Freaky” is now showing in theaters.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS