Freaky review: Vince Vaughn is surprisingly charming in this horror-comedy

With a smattering of gruesome kills and a witty script, Freaky is a refreshing horror take on Freaky Friday that’s elevated by Vince Vaughn’s surprisingly charming turn as a teenage girl trapped in a serial killer’s body.

Although spooky season may be over, that doesn’t mean we’re done with horror movies for the year, and this Friday the 13th, the aptly named Freaky is heading to theaters to give audiences one last laugh (and a hearty scare) before we pack away the cobwebs and set up the Christmas tree. With a fast-paced and witty script, some surprisingly creative (and gruesome) kills, and a match set of lead performances from Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn, Freaky is one of the more creative and energetic slashers in recent memory — elevated by its strong cast and self-aware sense of humor.

Starring Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn, Freaky follows awkward highschool teen Millie (Newton), who lives in a town perennially haunted by a notorious serial killer known as the “Blissfield Butcher.” Millie almost becomes the Butcher’s next victim, but when he stabs her with a mystical dagger, the two switch bodies, and Millie has 24 hours to change things back until the swap becomes permanent.

Obviously, as the title and marketing make frequent reference to, this is a story that we’ve seen before — a play on the body-switching hijinks of Freaky Friday. Much like Happy Death Day did with Groundhog Day  (which comes from the same production company, Blumhouse), Freaky breathes new life into an already familiar story by injecting with a pitch-perfect blend of referential horror-comedy, resulting in a fresh, if unambitious film.

Whether or not the film “works”, of course, rests on the shoulders of its two leads – Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn — and fortunately for them, both actors are well-suited to their roles. For her part, Newton is serviceable as both Millie in her own body, and Butcher-as-Millie — although neither role has much meat to it. Millie is a cardboard cutout of a highschool outcast, but with the wardrobe of Carrie White and the looks of Regina George, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which she’d be bullied in high school. Several jocks make jokes at her expense because of her appearance, but it’s pretty difficult to believe a girl that pretty is bullied at all.

High school politics aside, though, Millie isn’t a spectacularly interesting character no matter who she’s played by. Her character seems to fluctuate from scene to scene, which is unfortunate because it means that after the body swap happens, there’s not as much of a bunch as there could’ve been because we’re not quite sure who Millie is. We saw a similar concept executed better in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, where Jack Black played a teenage girl in a grown man’s body.

The same penis jokes were present, and the comedy of seeing a grown man scream like a teenage girl, but in Jumanji the character work was better because we had an idea of who exactly the teen was (vapid, shallow, self-obsessed) before the swap. With Millie, she’s somewhat of a stock character, with two best friends more interesting than she is. As such, Newton doesn’t have much to work with pre-swap, but once she’s inhabiting the role of the Blissfield Butcher, she gets a chance to shine. Newton commits, thoroughly embodying a psychotic serial killer, but again – there’s not much substance to the role in terms of character, so she ends up playing second fiddle to Vince Vaughn-as-Millie.

We’ll be the first to admit that we have an on-again-off-again relationship with Vince Vaughn as an actor, but Freaky may have just sold us on his ability to play for both comedy and drama. He’s serviceable as the Blissfield Butcher — as we mentioned, it’s a bit of a stale role — but where he really shines is post-swap, as Millie. Vaughn brings an impressive physicality to the role – whether he’s shrieking and hiding from the butcher, or fleeing with an over-the-top run, it’s easy to believe he actually is a teenage girl in a grown man’s body.

As great as the physical comedy is though, Vaughn is even better when he’s digging into the character of Millie herself. Millie juggles a few personal relationships throughout the film: a drunk, distant mother mourning the loss of Millie’s father, an antagonistic sister who also works for the town’s police department, and a jock named Booker who she has a crush on. Vaugh, somehow, manages to bring genuine emotion to scenes where ‘Millie’ is having a heart-to-heart with her mom or confessing her crush on Booker.

He also has an incredible amount of chemistry with the entire cast – including Booker (with whom he shares a kiss, which is…. odd), but especially Millie’s best friends Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla (Celest O’Connor.) The duo deliver most of the film’s funniest lines and are the only through-line for the pre and post-switch Millie, so they do an excellent job of grounding the two halves of the movie. We wish Nyla may have gotten a little more character development, as other than a few good one-liners, we’re not sure that the two of them couldn’t have just been squished into one character.

The film’s other character who serves little to no purpose whatsoever is Alan Ruck as Millie’s harsh woodshop teacher, who exists seemingly only to be sawed in half for a gory kill — an honor that could’ve gone to any nameless extra, and certainly not a role that warranted an actor of Ruck’s fame, or the amount of screen time the character got. It’s these extra scenes with characters like the woodshop teacher and the school’s resident ‘mean girl’ that could’ve been cut without consequence, and saved the film from lagging a bit in its second act.

However, besides some pacing issues during the middle hour, Freaky is still one of the most inventive slashers in recent memory. It’s silly, it’s snarky, but it’s also oddly sweet, anchored by an offbeat and charming performance from Vince Vaughn. Filled to the brim with classic horror references and self-aware one-liners to satisfy any savvy horror viewer, Freaky will likely find itself among the ranks of classic horror satire films like Scream and Cabin in the Woods.

Have you seen Freaky? What’s your favorite horror-comedy? Sound off in the comments below.