‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ is Very Similar to the First ‘Ghostbusters,’ and I Would Be Very Surprised If Anyone Argued Differently

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife (CREDIT: Screenshot)

Starring: McKenna Grace, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Logan Kim, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Bokeem Woodbine

Director: Jason Reitman

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Shooting Lasers at Those Ghosts

Release Date: November 19, 2021 (Theaters)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife plays all the biggest hits of the original Ghostbusters, but in rural Oklahoma instead of Manhattan. A gluttonous spook chomping away, squishy treats running amok, hellbeasts hooking up, “Who you gonna call?” – it’s all right here! It’s like a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live: perfectly professional, and it probably works best for those who haven’t seen the first edition. As for those who were around for the original, there’s the thrill – or sting – of familiarity. This time around, the main busters are a few precocious kids, as opposed to a crew of childlike adults, so the vibe is at least a little different, although pretty much everyone involved takes great pains to capture that 1984 mojo as best they can.

I frequently wonder why repetition is demonized so much more in cinema than it is in other mediums. Revivals are an essential piece of live theater, musicians are expected to play the same songs over and over at their concerts, superhero comic books thrive on retelling the same stories, etc. But when you trot out a repeat at the movie house, you might draw big crowds, though you likely won’t win much critical praise, at least not as much as you did the first go-round. It probably has something to do with scale and budget. It takes years to assemble sequels and reboots, so there is a lot riding on them to be worth it. Ghostbusters: Afterlife plays it safe, so we’ll probably continue to see proton packs around town for decades to come, but I don’t know if anyone will also start emulating Paul Rudd’s plaid ensembles. (Well, maybe they will, but less because of this movie and more because he’s the Sexiest Man Alive.)

I didn’t want to be preoccupied by all this context while watching Afterlife, but it’s kind of unavoidable when you’re as plugged into culture as much as I am. When I try to think about this movie in and of itself, I can at least say that I appreciate that Carrie Coon and McKenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard were free to do their own thing, more or less. And there is one scene that I must admit is just undeniably satisfying, and that is when a bunch of Stay Puft marshmallows impishly run amok in a brand name department store. It’s cute and chaotic – an eternally winning combination. It’s also curious and a little unpredictable, which are qualities that the rest of the movie could have definitely benefited from.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is Recommended If You Like: SNL recurring sketches, the Minions going shopping in the first Despicable Me, Dead actors resurrected by technology

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Spooks

Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton Get ‘Freaky,’ and a Bloody Silly Time Will Be Had By All

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Freaky (CREDIT: Brian Douglas/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton, Alan Ruck

Director: Christopher Landon

Running Time: 101 Minutes

Rating: R for Stunningly Over-the-Top Gore and Bluntly Disturbing Profanity

Release Date: November 13, 2020 (Theaters)/December 4, 2020 (On Demand)

When the elevator pitch for a movie is “A serial killer swaps bodies with a teenage girl,” how could its title be anything other than “Freaky Friday the 13th”? Maybe litigiousness was a concern, or perhaps brevity really is the soul of witty knifeplay, as co-writer/director Christopher Landon and company ultimately settled on the shorter moniker Freaky for this breezy and deadly concoction. Landon is best known for mashing up slashers and time loops in Happy Death Day and its sequel, and now he’s got another unlikely complement for his preferred horror subgenre. The hallmarks of the two formulas mix together mostly seamlessly, as mystical mumbo-jumbo and a race to a point-of-no-return countdown are punctuated by buckets of gore.

The teenage girl in question is Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton), who’s been going through life in a bit of a daze ever since her dad died about a year ago, while the serial killer (Vince Vaughn) is known as the Blissfield Butcher, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about him. Freaky‘s slasher approach is most directly inspired by the Friday the 13th franchise, particularly the early sequels in which the be-masked Jason Voorhees’ motivation gradually drifts away from revenge and more towards a general unquenchable thirst for killing. For Newton, that means playing the Butcher in Millie’s body as mostly a silent stalker, while occasionally dropping piercingly vulgar threats of violence. If the Butcher is motivated by anything, it’s shiny objects, as he is positively entranced by a beautiful kitchen knife, while his fashion sense leads him to outfit Millie’s body in a striking blood-red jacket.

Vaughn has a much more effervescent role to play, which he tackles with a level of relish that is always ready to be tapped whenever he’s given the right material. With arms akimbo and his heart on his sleeve, he nails the looseness of someone who suddenly finds herself a foot taller and about one hundred pounds bigger. Millie’s fascination with all the nooks, crannies, and appendages of her new body is infectious and an inspiration for all of us to celebrate the vessels we’re currently living in, body swap or no. Good on Vaughn for being so fully up for anything!

As for the actual story, Freaky lacks the emotional oomph present in the best of the body swap genre (or the best of the slasher genre, certainly). The thematic heft of the body swap tends to be driven by the swappers ultimately coming to an understanding with each other, but that’s not exactly going to work when one of them is basically an embodiment of pure evil. So we must be sated by the goofball charm, of which there is plenty, and the absurd graphic violence, of which there is even more. Landon is clearly here to revel in the most baroque excesses of the slasher world, as the Butcher utilizes the likes of a toilet seat and a tennis racket in profoundly lethal ways. Also there’s apparently a cryogenic chamber in a high school locker room. All that AND there’s a “Que Sera Sera” needledrop. Quite frankly, I think Freaky knows exactly who its audience is.

Freaky is Recommended If You Like: Friday the 13th Parts 3 through 6, Grindhouse-style gore, The continued relevance of Vince Vaughn

Grade: 3 out of 5 Magic Daggers