Friday, 13 November 2020

Freaky (2020) - Movie Review

Over the last handful of years, once he stopped contributing to the perpetually diminishing returns of the Paranormal Activity series, writer/director Christopher Landon has been establishing himself as one of the better horror-comedy filmmakers working today. We can argue about the merits of Scouts’ Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse until the actual apocalypse rolls up, but his recent trend of ‘___ but it’s a slasher flick’ high-concept features has proven quite effective, between the Groundhog Day flip in Happy Death Day and the booster shots of Back To The Future Part II in its sequel. And that trend carries with his latest, a slasher makeover of the classic body-swap comedy Freaky Friday.

The two lead actors are at their respective bests here, both on their own merits and as part of the bigger body-swap conceit. Kathryn Newton does well at establishing the shy girl Millie, but she does really well at the killer-of-few-words routine, synchronising with the production values in savouring every drip of tension from the kill scenes. And as for Vince Vaughn, while he does decently as the physical presence of the Blissfield Butcher, watching him as a teenaged girl in a serial killer’s body induces the most mindfrags I’ve gotten in years. I kept flipping back and forth from laughing at the ridiculousness of his scenes, and then feeling on the verge of tears because he’s selling the emotional moments like a champion.

It helps that the production around these two has clockwork precision going for it. Banking on the same gender-bender dichotomy of the plot, a lot of the visuals work with making brightly-coloured locales feel as comfortable as… well, waking up in skin that isn’t your own. The lighting really pops from scene-to-scene, I love the way each moment is paced out to draw the anticipation out of the audience like you’re giving blood, and Bear McCreary’s compositions show the man in his spoopy element. The man always delivers, but it's especially nice seeing him attached to good movies.

There’s also the script to get into which, even with how much I was looking forward to this, managed to genuinely impress with how it handled the body-swap idea. For a start, Landon’s knack for healthy self-awareness in his characters means that the initial fantastical explanations (like when Vaughn-as-Millie tries to convince her friends who she is) aren’t nearly as tedious as in even the better non-Jumanji body swap comedies out there. It also makes for a decent return to some of the themes of Happy Death Day, showing a teenage girl self-actualise by going through the most literally-dissociative episode a person can go through.

And speaking of dissociation to do with gender and one’s body… hell yeah, this is queer! Starting out on a nicely subversive touch with Millie’s friend Josh (Misha Osherovich) taking great zeal out of being the gay guy who lives to make the straights uncomfortable (big Cakes Da Killa energy), but then it gets into the literal gender-bending on display and brings up some interesting points. Points that start even before the body swap takes place, showing a lot of reversed gender roles, particularly to do with sex, like a woman who leaves a man unsatisfied for a change, Josh’s comments about drunk straight guys, and the adjustments and even moments of personal power shown by both Millie and the Butcher in each other’s bodies. It’s the kind of flick that runs into frat boy rape culture and gives it the business end of a chainsaw; it’s pretty awesome as queer-friendly horror.

I honestly thought that Landon’s one trick was going to run stale by this point, but apparently, he has really found his calling in balancing old-school comedy with post-Scream meta-slashers. Beyond how great the acting is, how delightful the gore gets, and how well it works as trans solidarity in blood-soaked clothing, it’s just a really fun and really damn tense horror flick, one well worth checking out.

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