The promised Landon
Dear Christopher Landon and Blumhouse,
Now that you have successfully created a Groundhog Day slasher, a multiverse slasher, and a Freaky Friday body swap slasher, might I suggest one of the following high-concept movie stock plots for your next outing? Give me a call if you want a co-writer:
- It’s a Wonderful Life slasher: A final girl, suffering from PTSD years later, wishes she had never fought back and killed the masked murderer in the first place. She then finds herself in an alternate universe where the killer is still at large with many more victims, and she hast to stop him once more to return to her own reality.
- Back to the Future slasher: The final girl travels back in time to try and prevent some murders from happening in the first place, but is forced to relive them and change their outcome.
- Truman Show slasher: Our characters are on a reality TV show without realizing it on which they have to survive a staged slasher movie, only for a real killer to enter the fray and go undetected and thanks to the set up of the show. Oh wait… this is the plot of Halloween: Resurrection, and nobody but me thinks that that one is any fun.
- Rashomon slasher: We relive the fateful night of a murder spree through multiple perspectives showing different realities, and revealing that there’s more to the murderer’s motivation than meets the eye. This one definitely needs a secret villain who seems like a good guy at first.
And a few more half-baked ideas to round things out… 50 First Slashes: every day, the hero loses their memory of the previous day and has to re-survive a murder attempt. Slasher-mento: murder spree told in reverse order due to short-term memory loss. Slasher Gump: it turns out every significant American event of the past fifty years has been the result of a serial killer’s stabby work.
Anyways, I’m burying the lede here. Freaky is tons of fun. (It was initially titled Freaky Friday the 13th, an amazing title, but Paramount reportedly threatened legal action.) It’s a slasher… but also a body swap movie. Hell yeah! Why did it take me three years to see this?
Landon remains an exciting horror-comedy filmmaker, constructing tense and gruesome murders but also some well-constructed laughs. He once again extracts terrific performances from his leads: Vince Vaughn as a teenage girl and Kathryn Newton as a burly serial killer. Vaughn and Newton carry the movie with their hilarious and physical performances. It’s hard to say who’s better — Vaughn is funnier, but Newton incinerates every one of her post-swap scenes with absurd intensity.
The story opens with a classic slasher intro: Some anonymous, debauching teens get stalked and murdered by a masked psycho nicknamed The Butcher (Vaughn). This opening scene might be the most suspenseful in the movie — it’s an impeccable specimen of thriller filmmaking, with great blocking and jump scare timing. If I were a producer, I’d be calling Landon’s agent to hire him to make a “normal” slasher at some point. It occurs to me that Bodies Bodies Bodies would have been both funnier and scarier if Landon had directed it. And can you imagine his take on a Halloween movie? The series might actually be fun to watch again.
Millie (Newton) is a mousy, unpopular high schooler who crushes from afar upon friendly jock Booker (Uriah Shelton). (By the way, casting Newton as a geeky pariah is as unrealistic as any of the movie’s supernatural antics.) Her mom and sister are still grieving from her father’s death a year earlier, an emotional thread that doesn’t go much of anywhere.
The Butcher chases Millie down after school one day and stabs her with a cursed dagger, which triggers the body swap. From there the movie hits just about every familiar body swap beat, with the added tension of one of the swappees being vicious murderer.
After that, there aren’t really any big surprises left. The movie’s dominoes fall almost exactly where you might guess they would once you reach the halfway point. That’s probably the movie’s biggest problem: It coasts to its ending after a terrific set-up. There’s some unformed metaphoric content on gender and sexuality, but it’s no more coherent than your average horror movie.
That’s not to say Freaky bad. Not at all. Only a certain stretch when The Butcher, now in Newton’s body, is tied up for a few scenes does the movie feel slack. But it doesn’t exactly push beyond its logline the way that, say, Happy Death Day snuck in a moving arc its protagonist amid the killing.
The film does have one other major structural issue that I suspect will turn off slasher purists: Within the first few scenes, we have all of the heroes and villains divvied up: The good guys (best friends, crush, family) are never in real danger, and the bad guys (date rapist football players, cruel teacher, mean girls) drop like skewered flies. Their fates are obvious and match audience expectations. The best slashers have a little bit of cruelty to them that this one avoids, putting the emphasis on the comedy ahead of the horror despite the heavy-R gore. (Oddly, Happy Death Day felt like a more authentic thriller but stuck to PG-13.)
The last hiccup is one that’s plagued Landon in all of his movies to date: A “killer escapes one last time” plot twist in the final fifteen minutes that doesn’t do much to the movie except to stretch out the runtime after a satisfying conclusion. Freaky runs just over 100 minutes, which is on the long side for a zesty thriller; 85 would have been perfect.
Despite my quibbles, I spent the entirety of Freaky with a smile on my face. It nails its premise with flair and energy. Vaughn reminds you he has real talent as a comedian, and Newton starring in a movie will now be reason enough for me to check it out. I can’t help but wonder what Landon will do next. I might even check out the panned, wacky-looking We Have a Ghost.