Career second acts are a rarity in Hollywood, with studios seldomly allowing marquee actors the opportunity to explore outside their comfort zone (Matthew McConaughey and Adam Sandler are a few recent examples). That fact hasn’t stopped former comedic heavyweight Vince Vaughn from discovering a new career path. Whether he’s a bruiting action star (Brawl in Cell Block 99) or an insular drug-dealer (Arkansas), Vaughn has comfortably discovered new manors to express his assured acting chops. Now teaming with Happy Death Day writer/director Christopher Landon in Freaky, Vaughn finds himself channeling a teenage girl in an uproarious horror-comedy crowdpleaser.
Freaky follows Millie (Kathryn Newton), an introverted teen stuck in a malaise after her father’s death. If high school life couldn’t be complicated enough, the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) begins to re-surface, attacking Millie during a dark night. What should have been a clear-cut kill becomes far stranger when the Butcher and Millie switch bodies, with Millie inhabiting the consciousness of the large serial killer. Millie now must reverse the switch before nightfall, or less she will be stuck in the Butcher’s body forever.
As someone who couldn’t jive with Landon’s previous efforts (The Happy Death Day films were spirited but couldn’t overcome their wonky tonality), I am delighted to see the writer/director follow through with his conceptual ingenuity. Now working in the confines of an R-rating, Landon leans into the gleefully gory machinations of the slasher genre, dreaming up a bevy of creative kills that leave viewers in a state of shock and awe. His usage of practical effects and unsettling score cues further sell each death, with Landon also understanding the shameless appeal of killing off inherently unlikable characters (a certain scene with a saw is gloriously over-the-top). He playfully harkens to the genre’s adored staples (the opening is a clever ode to Scream) while also paving his own pathway through the film’s distinct horror-comedy blend.
The oft-kilter premise generates a perfect canvas for its well-suited cast. Kathryn Newton offers one of her best performances to date, portraying Millie’s insecurities with emotional authenticity. Her role could’ve easily felt like an archetype cliche, but it’s Newton’s ability that imbues the character’s persona with dimension that truly elevates it. Let’s be honest though, this is Vince Vaughn’s film and he steals every frame of it. Vaughn’s signature fast-talking delivery is tailor-made for the energized personality of a teenage girl, selling the role reversal without dipping into the cartoon-y territory. I credit him for not approaching this role with a mawkish attitude, with his performance excelling due to the genuine sincerity behind it.
Landon’s effort also improves on the superficial emotionality of his previous films. Where Happy Death Day rang hollow with a greeting card message, Landon utilizes his high-concept premise to slyly observe our innate difficulty to express ourselves in our own skin. I don’t want to oversell its impact (some of Landon’s dialogue still feels overly-speechified), but the writer/director deserves credit for ensuring a level of attachment with his material.
Blending its genre elements to create a satisfying horror/comedy concoction, Christopher Landon’s Freaky thrives as an inspired iteration of the slasher genre [B+]
Review by Matt Conway