Rated R for sheer over-the-top slasher movie violence. Because the movie takes place in a high school for a good chunk of the movie, there tends to be some high school inappropriate crassness. But that tends to be completely forgettable when you see human bodies get ripped apart in all kinds of awful, awful ways. Um, also drinking, I guess?
DIRECTOR: Christopher Landon
Guess what? I apparently get a mini-break from writing about Oscar nominated films. This sounds weird. It's not like I really approach the day differently when I sit down to write about an Academy Award nominated movie. I open up my Notes app, see what movie I'm talking about today, and then wing it...hoping to remember what thoughts I had at the time. When I teach film, I talk about bringing a notebook while writing. But I watch most movies on the treadmill, so that is out the window. Also, writing already is one of those hobbies that borders between sheer ecstasy and awful burden. I don't need to be adding things to the burdensome category. But with a movie like Freaky, any kind of wisdom I bring to the table is all on me. That's kind of liberating. I mean, I would hate to do it all the time. But as a nice break, it is helpful.
For a second, I thought that Christopher Landon wrote Happy Death Day. That's not quite accurate. He wrote Happy Death Day 2U. I didn't care for the sequel, but he did DIRECT the first movie. So there's something. But Freaky is starting to become something of a subgenre that I really like. I mean, I've always liked horror comedies. Shaun of the Dead and An American Werewolf in London are two of my favorite movies even devoid of genre. There's something remarkably satisfying of wittiness coupled with suspense that just hits in the right spot for me. Perhaps it is the stress that is placed on dramatic irony that does it for me. But I would say that Happy Death Day and Freaky, the two products by Christopher Landon released by Blumhouse are something a little different. Both Shaun of the Dead and An American Werewolf in London are quality films that really stress the craftsmanship of film. But Landon's films, and I mean this with all respect, almost embrace the schlock element of horror movies. There are some genuinely great schlock cinema films.
Because horror comedy is hard. Once Shaun of the Dead came out, there were a glut of movies that really attempted to pull it off. They took Landon's route, offering cheeseball films that tended to come across as tedious. But there's something about Landon that kind of gets it. I always felt that I could sell An American Werewolf in London to a non-horror audience. I don't know how much I could sell something like Freaky to a non-horror audience. I mean, I kind of know. I used my birthday free pass to watch Freaky with my wife. But the way I did it was that I posed it as a scary version of Freaky Friday. And that's what Landon does and he does it well. See, Edgar Wright and John Landis took horror genres and added jokes. Landon kind of takes the opposite route. He takes genre-themed comedy and adds horror to them. It should give the same product, but the result is tonally very different. With Happy Death Day, he took Groundhog Day and made it involving death. Other people have done it. Off the top of my head, I can think of both Edge of Tomorrow and Supernatural. Freaky Friday was a Disney staple and then it became this fantastic horror movie.
And what made it work was that it was heavily horror. By applying the aesthetic and tone of a horror movie to a comedy, instead of dulling the edges of a horror to allow jokes, it sharpened the edges of a comedy. If I had to put movies in a category, I would put Freaky and Happy Death Day in horror, despite the absolute absurdity of both. It's kind of telling. These make these movies real crowd-pleasers when it comes to Halloween and I absolutely love it.
I don't know if there could be a more perfect casting as Vince Vaughn as the Butcher / Millie. I never really saw him as this intimidating dude until this movie. Like, Landon saw something and just embraced it. I know he's played serious roles before, so I'm not pigeonholing him as a comedic actor. But he comes across as genuinely scary in the movie. Sure, Landon decided to ramp up the violence, playing up the horror movie tropes in the sequence at the beginning. But then, he's able to embody Millie with hilarious results. I have to tell the truth: I acknowledge that he's more playing a stereotypical teenage girl sooner than playing Millie. I can't fight that battle; I won't fight that battle. But that's also the right choice for the movie. Millie is a character in a horror movie, not a comedy. What this ultimately means is that Millie isn't allowed to be funny when she's not in the Butcher's body. But the joke comes from the paradox of this feminine little girl in this tank's body. It's the same gag that we get out of Freaky Friday, so I think that everyone gets where I'm going with this. If Vince Vaughn played a nuanced version of Kathryn Newton, it would be a bit of a dud.
But I'm kind of also surprised how risky the movie got with Vaughn in the role. A decade ago, the scene in the backseat of the car would be played up for laughs. I'm not saying it was the most comfortable I've ever been while watching a movie. It brought up questions about body identity that I hadn't really thought of before. But considering that a lot of the movie was focused on laughs per minute, Landon really does take a huge risk with that scene. We're rooting for Booker and Millie to have the relationship flourish and it's amazing that the scene with Vaughn not only doesn't derail that, but oddly strengthens it. Yeah, I have a hard time divorcing 50-year-old Vince Vaughn from playing a teenage girl, especially considering that he's the most famous actor in this movie by far. But the scene mostly works.
I almost feel bad for Kathryn Newton. Newton is the protagonist of the movie. She's Millie. But the majority of the movie is Millie in The Butcher's body. One of the things about the slasher in the slasher film is that he tends to be mysterious. The more we find out about this character, the less power that they have. They are intentionally dehumanized. This works as a joke for a little bit. I adore that The Butcher just lives in an abandoned warehouse with homeless people and toilets full of doll heads. But it makes me realize how unsatisfying it must be to play Jason, Michael Myers, or Leatherface. There's a lot of internalization that never really gets translated to the screen. It's the knowledge that all that is really calling this actor to the set is the knowledge that they are a big guy. That big guy could really be replaced at anytime and few people would know. But back to Millie, tt really works as a joke. I even love the idea that Millie's mother keeps avoiding near death by accident. But it can't be as satisfying to play that for an entire movie. The funny thing is that the movie poster that has Vaughn's reflection in the knife brings up something that might be explored in the world outside of comedy: the inversion of the villain.
What if Freaky was a commentary on the infantilization of women in genre storytelling? Millie, for all of her brute strength being sucked up in The Butcher, comes across as kind of scary when she's hunting down Vince Vaughn. She's easily overpowered often, but that doesn't necessarily stop her from being too scary in the whole scheme of things. Despite the fact that Alan Ruck in what must be a wink to his Ferris Bueller days still gets it in the end. Promising Young Woman kind of touches on the same idea. It's all the notion that we've grown accustomed and expectant of the large white male to be torturing girls and that it is somehow okay. Yeah, the joke is that this tiny little girl is hunting this big burly dude. But why isn't that occasionally the norm? Why have we completely clothed ourselves in the archetype and allowed the same story to play out time and again. Originally, the casting of the female lead in horror movies was an attempt to give women strength and agency. When Alien cast Sigourney Weaver, she was a powerhouse. When Jamie Lee Curtis was in Halloween, she redefined what it meant to be a Scream Queen. But now the young female has become disposable. I think that Freaky (at least Freaky's marketing team) is aware of the potential for commentary, but the movie never really embraces it.
I really like these movies. Yeah, they're not amazing films. But they really do elevate the horror genre as opposed to pulls away from it. It's a fun movie that gets a little cornball, but I can't complain.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.