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

1 Comment

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 beautifully 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

Movie Review: ‘Happy Death Day 2U’ Repeats Everything, But Nothing Was Ever the Same

3 Comments

CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Steve Zissis

Director: Christopher Landon

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Comically Absurd Death Scenes

Release Date: February 13, 2019

Happy Death Day 2U is a tricky movie to review while avoiding spoilers, because a lot of the fun is derived from the glut of surprises that the plot has in store. That may sound unlikely for a sequel to a film about someone repeating the same day over and over again. But it is true that one of 2U‘s great strengths is its unpredictability. In that sense, it is most reminiscent of The Cabin in the Woods, which is similarly impossible to talk about without spoiling at least a tad. But also like Cabin, Happy Death Day 2U is so chock-a-block full of twists that it is impossible to spoil entirely. So even if you go in knowing the first twist, there are about twenty-five more waiting for you, which is quite an accomplishment for any sequel. I will try to be as non-specific as possible for the rest of this review, but if you want to be thoroughly unspoiled, stop here and just know that 2U succeeds wildly in its go-for-broke mentality. (But if anyone wants to get deeper into the details, please feel free to send a comment my way because I happy to talk about this movie as much as possible.)

The challenge of any time loop narrative is making each successive go-round interesting instead of frustrating in its sameness. That pitfall would seem exponentially more challenging for a sequel. As the person who has to live it, Tree Gelbman is suitably enraged, perhaps even deranged, about being stuck in the predicament she thought she had just escaped. It plays to Jessica Rothe’s comic strengths to be able to just scream at the forces of fate torturing her. But it turns out that this same loop is just different enough for Tree and the audience to be optimistic. The tone shifts from the original so significantly, in fact, that 2U is essentially in an entirely different genre than its predecessor (to say which genre would constitute a spoiler). In that way, it is like Aliens, which shifted from the one-by-one elimination horror of Alien into a war-style action flick. That change was understandable given the succession from Ridley Scott to James Cameron. But in this case, Christopher Landon stayed on as director (while also taking over scripting duties from Scott Lobdell). That diverse tonal skillset is heartening to see in any filmmaker, and it makes me believe that the Happy Death Day franchise could actually pull off a third entry that is hinted at the end here.

Other highlights include beefing up the best parts of the first film. Tree gets wrung through an even more outrageous death montage, this time involving electrocution, skydiving in a bikini, and falling from a clock tower (in a possible nod to another time-based franchise). Meanwhile, Tree’s sorority sister Danielle is even more fleshed out as her own singular brand of clueless. Rachel Matthews has only a few credits to her name, but she deserves to be a star based on her Happy Death Day performances alone. With all this surplus of beef, 2U is perhaps a little busy. The slasher aspects might actually be unnecessary, though they do provide ample tension. Overall, this film has such a strong intellectual foundation for something so cheeky and demented that any slight misstep is easily forgiven once the next mind-tickling idea comes along.

Happy Death Day 2U is Recommended If You Like: Happy Death Day, Back to the Future Part II, Primer, Rick and Morty

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Loops