Words: Jamie Tabberer
Freaky, a new teen horror-comedy from Happy Death Day director Christopher Landon, has been described as Friday the 13th meets Freaky Friday meets Mean Girls - which is a lot to contend with.
But there’s more: there are echoes of Ryan Murphy’s TV shows, in both the chaotic (but never boring) narrative and the effortless LGBTQ+ representation.
Naturally, you can throw Halloween into the mix, while the self-referencing influence of Scream looms large some 25 years later. There’s even a touch of Heathers about it.
But the films I was most reminded of, believe it or not, were the latter two gender/body-swap-themed Jumanji films.
Indeed, Freaky’s faintly absurd story concerns protagonist Millie, pluckily played by Kathryn Newton (above), trading places with a middle-aged serial killer - improbably and hilariously played by Vince Vaughn.
"It’s so ridiculously funny, silly and well-acted that you can’t help but be charmed"
A brief, fantastical background plot involving a cursed dagger is unsatisfying, but prompts a gear switch: from here, Newton and Vaughn play each other, and it’s so ridiculously funny, silly and well-acted that you can’t help but be charmed.
(One last critical note, though: the opening is overfamiliar and, for better or for worse, it's here that most of the grossly unwatchable gore is packed.)
Vaughn goes all in as a Pitch Perfect-loving girl trapped in the body of a 6.5”, 49-year-old man. The surprise on Vaughn's face when Millie discovers her new penis is a picture, and at one point, he locks lips with a handsome teenage jock and object of Millie’s affection: a surreal but ultimately sweet moment that Landon says is not "played for laughs."
It’s not the only same-sex kiss either (how often does that happen in a mainstream Hollywood movie, let alone a horror film?), as one of Millie’s sharp, resourceful BFFs is of the ‘just happens to be gay’ variety.
There’s no plodding coming out story for the Wicked-watching, Grindr-scrolling Josh, played by nonbinary star Misha Osherovich – he just is. An ending that could feasibly be described as feminist is also forward-thinking and refreshing.
Freaky succeeds more as a comedy, undoubtedly. But the end result is a modern Frankenstein’s Monster of a movie that breathes new, bizarre life into the slasher sub-genre. And nobody saw that coming. Le freak, c’est… shook?
Freaky is out on Friday 13 November in the US. It is slated for release in the UK in 2020, according to IMDB.