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31 Days of Halloween: Freaky

Published Sunday, October 31, 2021 at 9:31pm

Ooh, this was a good choice to end the month. Bit of a surprise, too, because although Freaky came out in 2020, I'd completely forgotten what it is. It was all over the entertainment blogs I follow when it came out, but I was only vaguely interested at the time and I'm glad I didn't pay much attention because it was full of great little surprises.

The basic premise of the movie is easy to explain; I could fit it into a sentence. Everything hangs on the execution, and the execution is very, very good.

So what is the premise, anyway? Years ago a serial killer (Vince Vaughn) terrorized a small town, and the urban legends around him become more and more elaborate each year, even though he's been held in a facility for the criminally insane. This year, however, he's managed to escape, and in the middle of a killing spree he manages to get his hands on an ancient Aztec dagger with mystical properties. He's attacking an unpopular high school girl (Kathryn Newton) at midnight when a cloud passes over the moon activating the dagger and causing them to swap bodies. That last sentence is the one-sentence description I'd promised earlier, but "Freaky Friday meets Friday the 13th" is more succinct, obviously what they were aiming for, and didn't even occur to me; I bumped into it several times while looking for more information about the movie.

The swap gives both characters a freedom they didn't have before. The killer, now looking like a teenage girl, can conduct his business with impunity in the halls of the high school, taking out bullies and a particularly despicable shop teacher played by Alan Ruck. The girl, now in a strong, adult male body, can finally push the bullies back.

I said above that I was vaguely interested when Freaky came out. As I recall, a lot of the media coverage was focussed on how well Vaughn and Newton inhabit each other's characters, and they are both brilliant. Newton's job is no small feat and I don't mean to diminish that, but Vaughn's believability playing a teenager trapped inside Vince Vaughn is really what sells the movie. He is convincing and hilarious; the screenplay is excellent and he really makes the material shine.

Wikipedia tells me that the writers of the film, Michael Kennedy and Christopher Landon (who also directed it), are both openly gay, and that might explain how the movie is very smart about gender identity and sexual politics but still manages to make plenty of jokes involving those topics. Don't let anyone tell you that comedy is impossible in a more empathetic age. It's not all in prim good taste though (in fact, it's not at all in prim good taste). This is a slasher movie, after all, and commits all the sins (some would say virtues) of the genre: there's lotsa blood and mayhem, and the Alan Ruck character gets sawed in half. We don't get the requisite mid-coitus murder that these movies usually include, but there are two uncomfortable kissing scenes, and they're uncomfortable for very different reasons.

The main thing, though, is that effective satire can be hard to pull off in horror movies, and Freaky does an incredible job of telling a worthwhile story (arguably hard to do in a slasher movie) and being funny without becoming slapstick (arguably hard to do in a horror comedy). If funny horror movies are a dime a dozen (and they are), then good ones are like, a nickel each, and this is one of the good ones.

Actually, that last sentence was a little weird; just read the last part of it, thanks.

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