Skip to main content

'Freaky' Review: A slasher that lets its freak flag fly

Christopher Landon’s 'Freaky' merges all the ferocity of a high school slasher with the zaniness of a body-swap comedy from the 80s.

Kathryn Newton in 'Freaky.'
(Image: © Universal)

Our Verdict

'Freaky' could be one-note, with actors playing out-of-their-age for yucks, but instead, it's a witty, explorative slasher redefinition that earns its shrieks and knows how to get the party started.

For

  • 🔪 Kathryn Newton as Vince Vaughn.
  • 🔪 Vince Vaughn as Kathryn Newton.
  • 🔪 New generation slasher.
  • 🔪 It's fun!

Against

  • 🔪 Some emotional subplots are slighter.
  • 🔪 Maybe too on-the-nose at times.

Freaky is currently only available to watch in theaters. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend checking it out at your local drive-in. If one isn’t available, please be sure to check out state and CDC guidelines before watching in an enclosed space.

Attend any horror convention, stroll into the barroom area, and you'll hear genre obsessors debate the demise of slasher cinema and in what forms it could return. It’s not the 80s anymore. That same sleaze-and-slaughter mentality isn’t as marketable. Enter Christopher Landon’s Freaky, Blumhouse’s clever new-age slasher with killer style. It’s rather ingenious, conceptually. Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy find a way to combat exploitative, abusive norms of the past without sacrificing the innocence and humanity of its “survivor girl.” How? By “Freaky Fridaying” a murderous psychopath into the teenager's skinsuit. Every crime the killer commits in his new vessel is still attributed to his vile, invading soul, yet we still acknowledge the visual vindication of the victimized good-girl getting deserved revenge.

Maybe that intro was a little formula-subversion heavy, so let’s dial it back a notch. Deaths are gratifying, the humor bites back, and horror wits are sharp as daggers. To quote Die Antwoord, “I fink u freeky and I like you a lot.”

Kathryn Newton stars as Millie, a bookish Blissfield resident and high school nobody. As homecoming nears, rumors of the legendary Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) rise again when four students are found dead in a gruesome scene. After the big homecoming football game, which Millie attends since she’s the team’s beaver mascot, the Blissfield Butcher eyes his newest target. As Millie waits for a ride home, while her mother sleeps off another few bottles of chardonnay to dull the hurt of her husband’s passing, the Butcher chases Millie through the empty stadium. As he stabs downward with an Aztec knife named “La Dola,” his newest toy, the weapon’s secret power initiates a soul-swap between villain and coed. When Millie awakes the next day, it’s in the Butcher’s disgusting hideout, while the Butcher now has a perfect new disguise that will become permanent if the curse isn’t broken in twenty-four hours.

As the “Landonverse” continues to expand at Blumhouse, Freaky's vibe can easily be described as Happy Death Day with pointier teeth. Landon’s treatment of fantastical coming-of-age commentaries and horror lore is becoming a brand, without sacrificing the more mortal elements of human experiences. His narrative isn't just a gag about Vaughn’s Jason Voorhees stand-in feeling himself in scream queen skin. Newton’s not-quite-popular senior experiences empowerment within her newfound abilities (peeing standing upright and such). To performative credit, this development would not be possible without Vaughn’s mimicry of Newton as an oafish man traipsing around daintily or embracing his feminine wilds, including some unforgettable interactions with football-jock crush Booker (Uriah Shelton). Nor does Vaughn skip a pep-step beat when reintroducing himself to best-friends Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celeste O'Connor), recalling Blissfield’s fight song choreography or nailing Newton’s vocal intonations in schoolgirl banter.

That’s not to undersell Newton herself, who undergoes a music video transformation to reemerge as her Butcherized self. The lipstick, red leather, piercing gaze; Newton shows just as much enthusiasm snickering and fulfilling the Butcher’s bloodlust. Freaky's gimmick, thankfully, never wears thin as “Not Newton” sets her sights upon those who’ve tortured Millie, from unprofessional and disgruntled woodshop teachers with vendettas (Alan Ruck) to varsity-jacket bros who let their wrong heads make decisions. Newton’s impersonation of Vaughn holds the power of a Samara Weaving stare, and can flip the switch to teen-in-duress when squealing for help because everyone believes the pretty blonde who’s possessed by an urban legend. I’m not sure which I adore more, Vaugh-as-Newton or Newton-as-Vaughn, but why bother with comparisons when both have so many standout moments?

The more complex flavors in this recipe are horror and comedy tastes, incorporated into a smooth, unified texture. There’s no weakening the Butcher’s massacre, whether it’s slicing someone lengthwise by pushing them down a table saw like lumber, or chainsawing flesh, or shoving a wine bottle into another’s throat, then breaking the glass, so shards protrude (goes one step further than Party Hard, Die Young). Simultaneously, the script’s handling of common teen-upbringing beats is darkly and successfully accountable amidst the gory content that soaks pop-candy lit party scenes at abandon mills or glow-in-the-dark mini-golf courses. The way horror navigates high school ecosystems will forever provide more room for honesty (Detention, Scream, The Faculty, etc.), which Freaky doesn’t ignore. Be it growing up in a single-parent household, decisions about the distant future, or surviving the intolerance and closemindedness of small-town bubbles. Balance shines through like the reflection of a shiny steel blade.

Some might argue that Freaky zigs and zags precisely as you’re expecting, or how an emotional subplot or two feel left behind, and while valid, the confidence in execution goes a long, long way. Christopher Landon and Michael Kennedy litter their nu-wave slasher revamp with homages to the icons of old (Vaughn moves very Jason-like in the opening onslaught, window burst included). Freaky is as much a new beginning as it is a love letter to the classics of yesterday, shouldered by the transformative performances of Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn. It’s a slasher that smells like teen spirit and looks like an overly-gorified Las Vegas haunted attraction, which I mean as a compliment. Favorably upbeat, funky-fun, and dedicated to its adolescent horror roots.

Freaky will be available in drive-ins November 13th. VOD for the film is yet to be announced.