Director: Christopher Landon
Screenwriter: Michael Kennedy, Christopher Landon
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Alan Ruck
Following years of writing and directing to very little fanfare, Christopher Landon finally found a shtick that works when he directed the successful Blumhouse horror-comedy Happy Death Day. Since the success of Happy Death Day, Landon has, in his own words, stuck to films of “the same DNA”, directing a sequel to his 2017 hit and following it up with 2021’s Freaky. The bare bones of both Happy Death Day and Freaky are essentially the same, with both stories telling of a young (coincidentally blonde) female student, and each revolving around a 24 hour time frame. Although Happy Death Day follows Tree Gelbman having to live the same day over and over again, Freaky follows Millie Kessler who has 24 hours to reverse a body swap between herself and the Blissfield Butcher, a murdering psychopath.
Freaky opens in a way that not many slashers do nowadays: with a Craven-esque first kill (or more appropriately, kills). The Blissfield Butcher first strikes by taking out four high school students partying away in the most cliched fashion: telling spooky stories, having sex, drinking alcohol and so on. Though many would read “cliché” negatively, it is the very cliched nature of the first scene that truly sets up what to expect from the entire film: that it’s all just a bit of fun, a movie made to be enjoyed and not to be taken too seriously.
Much like Happy Death Day, the emotional hook attached to Freaky is in Millie’s home life and particularly her progression as a character. Having been bullied for much of her life, Millie is a shy, introverted teen just trying to make it through high school, all the while her home life has been unpleasant ever since her father died. Though these emotional hooks do create some investment in the characters, it is clear that their involvement within the film is merely to give the story even the tiniest slither of meaning behind the blood and guts.
Whilst the emotional crux of the movie may be paper thin, that is not to say that the material is bad overall. Freaky can be predictable at points – character progressions and story arcs can be seen from miles away – but the characters themselves are written very well. Each is injected with tonnes of charisma, which is then further emphasised by the quality of performances. Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton put in particularly fantastic turns. Arguably, Freaky simply would not work anywhere near as well as it does with anyone else leading the way.
Structurally, Freaky is great, never dragging for a second and keeping up a good pace; it absolutely flies by. The script is not perfect though. The humour throughout the film can feel a little lazy at points, especially with Vaughn having to act in an overly “feminine” way whilst Millie is in his body, but alongside this there are some genuine laugh out loud moments, and the humour, whether it hits or misses, does create a light tone over the movie which allows for plenty of fun to be had.
Whereas the comedy side of Freaky’s horror-comedy combination doesn’t always land, the horror side of things consistently holds up. Very much a tribute to slasher flicks of the 80s, Freaky is jam-packed with fantastic gory practical effects, and some truly inventive and gruesome kills that will have you squirming in your seat. There aren’t many scares by modern standards, but there are some good ones in there and Landon does take his time to build moments of palpable tension.
As for Landon’s role as the screenwriter, director and thus the creative leader of Freaky, it is clear that with each new entry into his little family of slasher pictures he is improving across the board. His talent, and therefore the quality of his movies, is evidently progressing with each production. His vision is clear and seemingly executed exactly as planned. Underneath his own progression there is also a slight feeling that there may be more beneath the surface, both in his plans for these movies and in his talent as a director. Multiple parallels between the Happy Death Day films and Freaky seem to portray that something special is very subtly being created in the background of Landon’s worlds, with similarities in characters, cinematography, costume and world building. Indeed, Landon himself has already teased that Mille Kessler and Tree Gelbman “will bump into each other someday”.
Landon’s shtick is still working. It is an undeniably successful formula that the filmmaker has created with his past three projects, and through close examination it also seems that it is only the beginning of something very exciting. Freaky, much like the Happy Death Day features, may not be the most perfect film of all time, but it is insanely fun. It creates a world and characters that we simply do not want to leave by the time the credits begin to roll.
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