Freaky should have slayed. From Christopher Landon, the director of the delightful time loop slasher movies Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U, Freaky is a similarly irreverent genre mash-up. In this case, Landon has smashed together a slasher and a body-swap caper, as the name implies; it's a multi-layered call back to the Disney classic Freaky Friday, which in turn calls to mind the slasher franchise Friday the 13th, a series that's overtly referenced through giant date-declaring title cards within the film itself (and also happens to be the movie's actual release date, Friday, November 13).
Unfortunately, Freaky's fun premise is tripped up by clunky writing, and the performances from its two talented leads--Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn--are completely inconsistent with one another. Despite the germ of a great idea at its core, Freaky feels like a first draft of a script that could have used a few more passes, not to mention a director who could better shape Vaughn's and Newton's performances so that they actually resembled one another's characters at any point.
The movie starts strong, in classic slasher fashion: A masked killer stalks horny teenagers through a large house and kills them in gory, brutal, creative ways, before claiming a mystical-seeming dagger that for some reason is just sitting around there. At nearly six and a half feet tall, Vaughn's "Blissfield Butcher" is an intimidating killer, and you'll immediately want to know more about his character--a wish that, strangely, is never granted, despite the fact that the movie's protagonist inhabits his body for most of it. Vaughn's killer is never fleshed out beyond the flat tropes of a typical slasher villain; he loves murder and lives in an over-the-top lair full of mannequins and ridiculous Halloween decor, but the "why" is never answered or even asked.
Freaky has a lot of fun establishing a world full of similar genre tropes: Newton's Millie is the nerdy girl who becomes "hot" as soon as she puts a little makeup on and slightly changes her wardrobe, secretly in love with a sensitive and misunderstood jock, and bullied by a squad of "mean girls" who torment her for being poor. But the movie never succeeds in moving past any of those surface-level cliches, instead contenting itself with simply splattering their blood and bits across floors and walls.
When the Butcher chooses Millie as his next victim, he stabs her with his new toy, and for reasons that are never explained, we see a vision of some kind of temple underneath their struggling bodies; it's unclear whether they see this as well, or if it's just for the audience, and that's all the explanation that's ever given for the resulting body swap. That's especially weird when you consider how eager Landon's Happy Death Day movies are to explain their time loop mechanics--particularly the second one. Landon co-wrote both Happy Death Day 2U and Freaky, making Freaky's shortcomings in this area even more inexplicable. Maybe he's saving the lore for a sequel, but either way, it results in a confusing movie here.
Once said body swap actually takes place, the killer, inhabiting Millie's body, seems weirdly keen to murder mainly the people who have recently wronged her, which is nonsensical, but admittedly satisfying. More troublesome is the fact that neither actor seems particularly concerned with capturing the other's character in their performance. The early scenes establish Millie as shy and bookish, while Vaughn plays Millie-in-the-Butcher's-body as a stereotypical high school girl who says the word "hashtag" out loud. Meanwhile, as soon as the Butcher enter's Millie's body, he exhibits a host of traits not present before, including a twisted sense of humor, a cunning deftness when navigating complex social situations, and a keen eye for fashion (not to mention remarkable skill at applying makeup). These transformations are jarring and incongruous, making the whole movie tough to buy.
Given the sheer talent involved, Freaky does manage to wring some enjoyment from the concept despite these serious flaws. The kills are universally juicy, from the frozen body that shatters into a million pieces to the shop teacher who gets an intimate encounter with his own buzzsaw. The romance between Millie and her jock is corny and boring, but it does result in an uncomfortably funny makeout scene in the back of a car. Freaky is by no means unwatchable; these highlights will simply make you wish that the movie had as much wit and charm and care in its script as the Happy Death Day movies to which we can't help but compare it--a comparison that, unfortunately, highlights how much better Freaky could have been.