The body swap genre has been through the modern-day movie meat grinder. There have been highs (Lindsay and Jamie Lee!), there have been lows (Rob Schneider in The Hot Chick) and there have been instances when I’ve asked myself ‘why are you seeing this in theaters by yourself?’ (Zac Efron and Matthew Perry in 17 Again).
In Freaky, the premise gets a fresh twist – what if a high school girl swapped bodies with the vicious man who tried to murder her?
It’s Wednesday the 11th and a serial killer, who goes by The Butcher, has murdered four high schoolers in a generic small town. Despite a blood-thirsty menace hunting down its youth, things in the city remain perfectly normal the following day. School’s in session. The Homecoming football game goes on as planned. Who cares about a few dead teenagers?
After the game, The Butcher (Vince Vaughn) returns and stabs Millie (Kathryn Newton), a quiet girl who dresses as the school’s mascot, with an ancient dagger that he collected at his last crime scene. The next morning (Friday the 13th, if you can believe that), the two have swapped bodies. Chaos and calamity ensue.
Millie awakes in the linebacker-like body of her attempted murderer. The Butcher inhabits the frame of the bookish teenager he just tried to stab to death. Through a Google search and the help of a questionably-portrayed Spanish teacher, Millie and her two best friends figure out that, if she doesn’t stab The Butcher back by midnight, the curse cannot be reversed. The hunt is on.
It’s a wild goose chase from dusk ‘til dawn, with things eventually coming to a bloody climax at the makeshift Homecoming dance out in the boonies. The Butcher has learned that being inside the body of a blonde, white girl is a great way to continue murdering unsuspectingly, while Millie is desperate to get out of the lumbering, 6’5” frame of a psychopath, despite the fact that her jock crush Booker finally confesses his true feelings for her while she’s still body swapped, which makes for a very peculiar, yet legitimately surprising and humorous scene in the backseat of a car.
Both Newton and Vaughn do an admirable job (Vaughn’s inhabitation of a young girl is thankfully far less offensive than one might have assumed), but the rest of the movie can never figure out what it wants to be. For a premise that offers much intrigue, it gets bogged down in stereotypes and tropes that leave it stuck in the mud. Millie’s gay best friend Josh (Misha Osherovich) is particularly dripping in cliche. His entire personality is, essentially, being a bitch and constantly saying things like “spill the tea.” We deserve more out of our queer characters.
Tonally, it’s all over the map. It’s one-half Disney Channel movie, one-half high school slasher flick and the two halves meet in a mushy middle. There are moments of gory fun that rise above the malaise. For instance, Millie’s authoritative shop teacher (Alan Ruck) meets a decidedly grisly fate. It’s moments like that which make you scream “more, more, more!” Whenever it feels like things are about to go for broke, however, they come to a crashing halt with triteness. A particular scene between Millie (still in The Butcher’s body) and her mother talking through a dressing room door at the discount clothing store where she works is one of the most silly, saccharine things put to film in recent memory.
Ultimately, the wheel (or the genre) isn’t being reinvented here. It’s the same rickety thing we’ve grown accustomed to, which, for all its promise, leaves everything feeling disappointingly hollow and familiar.
** out of *****
Freaky hits theaters on Friday, November 13th from Universal Pictures.