By David Dent
Back in 1996 Wes Craven’s ‘Scream’ refined the post-modern take on the stalk and slash genre which managed to be funny and, at the same time, genuinely frightening. Twenty five years later Christopher ‘Happy Death Day’ Landon, aided and abetted by the Blumhouse studio, has broadly pulled off the same trick, adding the long dormant body swap comedy genre into the slice and dice mix.
In the sleepy little town of Blissfield, a serial killer, The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn on top form), has struck again. But this time he’s managed to get hold of an ancient dagger which has some unusual properties; namely the ability to allow the attacker to swap bodies with his attackee after ‘killing’ them.
Enter small town girl Millie (Kathryn Newton) whose family life has become difficult following the death of her father: mum has taken to the bottle; her older sister, a cop, constantly gives her a hard time; and worse still she can’t pluck up the nerve to speak to class hottie, much to the consternation of her friends.
But after being abandoned late at night after school, Millie encounters The Butcher, who stabs her with the mystic knife. The following day, Millie wakes up, injured but alive, as does the Butcher. But both have now occupied each other’s bodies. Millie has to adjust to being a very big man – and serial killer to boot – and The Butcher to being trapped in the body of a teenage girl. But there’s a catch; if the spell can’t be reversed within 24 hours, the swap will be permanent. And Millie and friends do not want that to happen.
‘Freaky’s original title was the decidedly more obvious ‘Freaky Friday the 13th’, which pretty much upfront announces the genres it’s fusing. While the ‘good’ characters beam straight in from a million teen comedies, and The Butcher is a pretty straightforward 80s killer clone (yes complete with mask), beneath the rather broad gags showing Vaughn in the guise of a young woman and Millie’s friends adjusting to Millie as a bloke, there’s some surprisingly subversive humour going on, and also touching but non moralising stuff about families.
And lest I give the impression that this is Blumhouse PG 13 territory, there is some serious gore going on (death by circular blade and ingestion of broken wine bottle, anyone?) which, even going by the standards of the movies it emulates, is pretty extreme. Very, very good.
Freaky is released in UK cinemas on 2nd July 2021.