I have seen very few movies in which I felt the writers truly captured the complexities of teen language and diction. “Freaky,” the newest teen horror released in theaters, truly felt like it was written by adults trying to sound young. Its entertaining premise and the fantastic performance given by Vince Vaughn do not make up for the fact that this movie failed to escape the tropes it attempted to mock: the cheesy unrealistic decisions of high schoolers playing out in a silly, predictable, flat slasher world.
The plot of this film is a familiar one, seen before in the likes of “Freaky Friday,” “It’s a Boy Girl Thing,” “The Shaggy Dog” and a million other body-swap movies. “Freaky” stars Kathryn Newton as Millie, a bullied high schooler dealing with problems in her home, school and social life. At the same time, psychotic killer Blissfield Butcher, played by Vince Vaughn, is on the loose in her town. One night, the two cross paths and through a non-fatal stab from a magical knife, the two switch bodies. The rest of the movie is Millie trying to get her body back while the Blissfield Butcher uses Millie’s body to more easily ambush and murder unsuspecting teens.
“Freaky” came off as a predictable, tonally confused horror-comedy. The most egregious misstep this film made was its attempt to defy two very different types of movies at the same time. While trying to provide a new spin on a body-swap movie, “Freaky” also sought to be a self-referential slasher. The only way this juxtaposition of a comedy trope being the center of a horror movie could have worked was if the horror aspect of the movie was played in a more straight way. Any casual fan of slashers could recognize the dozens of references to some of the most notable series in the golden age of the genre. It is expected in the modern era for a movie to pay homage to famous older works in its genre. A line like “You’re black, I’m gay—we are so dead!” yelled by a central character while running away from the killer may be a clever, quick line that a large portion of the audience can laugh at and understand, but it also makes this movie meta. The characters are aware of the genre they are living in, which is in no way a flaw, but I would no longer consider the movie an actual slasher. It has become a meta-slasher and therefore a horror-comedy. The addition of a comedy trope onto a horror-comedy undercuts the juxtaposition created. That does not have to be a point against the film, but, as a horror snob, it put a damper on my entire experience. A horror film that could not stand without the crutch of humor is not something that I would consider a horror.
Onto more legitimate critiques, the predictability of “Freaky” was really disappointing. Once you know the basic premise, the rest of the movie goes exactly as every slasher and every body swap movie has gone. The final girl keeps getting into trouble with the killer but narrowly escapes, leaving a trail of bodies behind her, and both body-swapped characters learn the pros and cons of the other character’s lives while silly and awkward situations ensue. A saving grace to this tedium is Vince Vaughn. As both a creepy intimidating killer and a sweet quiet teen girl, he conveys the character who is meant to be inhabiting his body incredibly. In arguably the best scene in the entire film, Vince Vaughn plays a body-swapped Millie, flirting with her love interest, a short, skinny high school boy named Booker (Uriah Shelton). This hilarious scene manages to come off as really weird but also somehow extremely endearing. A large man in his 50s flirting like a coy high school girl should come off as alarming and off-putting, but the believability that Millie inhabits that large 50-year-old man body serves as an emotional foundation for the rest of the movie.
What was alarming and potentially off-putting were the few gory scenes. Everyone views gore in a different light. Some call it lowbrow; others write it off as lazy shock value. A lot of people just say that it’s gross and excessive. But I, like many other horror or action fans, respect gore done well. Creativity, realism and artfulness are my basic criteria to judge gore. And “Freaky” pretty consistently had two of the three. While graphic deaths that occurred may not have had any avant-garde qualities nor meaningful symbolism, they were creative in the style of classic slashers and realistic to the extent that I expect a horror-comedy to be. The opening scene is the Blissfield Butcher’s largest massacre. It contained a wine bottle being shoved down a teen’s mouth and out his throat, a girl’s head being smashed via toilet seat and a tennis racket being broken in half and shoved into either side of a character’s head. The deaths were effective, graphic, feasible and relatively original. There are about three notable gory scenes but the rest of the movie was extremely tame in terms of violence, so whether or not you like gore in horror, “Freaky” could be a good movie for you.
This film is consistently funny with stereotypical but likable characters. What it lacks in scares and originality it makes up for in gore, good acting and an absence of lulls. The movie comes out on demand on Dec. 4, but if you’re lucky enough to live near a drive-in theater, schlocky horror movies like “Freaky” are the perfect kind of movie to go see.