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Freaky review: A body-swap stabfest with emotional stakes

A body-swap slasher movie might sound like a tough sell, but top performances from the two leads turn Freaky into a stabby success, says Graeme Virtue

It sounds like the sort of film-spoofing sketch you might see on Ant And Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway: what if you crossed peppy body-swap comedy Freaky Friday with gory slasher Friday The 13th? But in Freaky this potentially one-note premise is turned into something much richer thanks to game performances from odd-couple stars Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn.

Director and co-writer Christopher Landon has some previous when it comes to witty movie mash-ups, having directed the nimble Happy Death Day and its sequel (the brilliantly titled Happy Death Day 2U). Those films marooned a harried student in a Groundhog Day time loop and required her to outwit a masked killer.

Freaky leans even harder and faster into blood-soaked horror, introducing its local boogeyman the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn, putting his 6ft 4in frame to imposing use) via a fraught pre-credits sequence in which he hunts down licentious teens at a house party. Even the most jaded Frightfest veteran might shudder at how this mute hulk takes out one poor victim with a wine bottle.

Having established its callous villain, Freaky turns to its teen heroine Millie (Newton). Reeling from the recent death of her dad, Millie is bullied at school and would seemingly rather die than go to the imminent homecoming ball. Her wish almost comes true when she is targeted by the Butcher, but thanks to some mystical business with an ancient Aztec dagger – best not to linger on this part too much – she escapes.

The next morning is when things really escalate, as the Butcher and Millie wake up in each other’s bodies. After a discombobulating family breakfast, this allows the Butcher easy access to a school full of potential prey. For the traumatised Millie, it means trying to convince her two best pals that even though she looks like a middle-aged creep in scuzzy clothes she is actually their beloved friend.

There are yet more brutal, flashy kills as the Butcher cuts a cathartic swathe through Millie’s meanest tormentors but the real fun is in seeing the actors adopt each other’s mannerisms. Newton stalks the corridors with flinty-eyed menace and in the cutthroat food chain of high school this attitude makes Millie seem newly cool. Vaughn gets even more to do, channelling a frantic teen as she struggles to coordinate her big new body. There is a (rather arbitrary) 24-hour window before the switch becomes permanent but the film still makes time for some delightfully unexpected detours, including Millie as the Butcher making a meaningful connection with her bereaved mum, who is clearly hesitant to talk about grief with her daughter but will open up to an unusually empathetic male stranger.

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It all builds to a bloody climax at an illicit homecoming rave in the sort of abandoned factory where you would expect to see lurid Saw-style deathtraps. But while Landon is adept at combining sharp, funny lines with tense set-pieces, it would all feel rather meaningless if not for the excellent character work preceding it. You go to a slasher movie expecting to see victims painfully impaled but Freaky has something even more effective to stab you in the heart: emotional stakes.

Four stars out of fiveFreaky is in cinemas from July 2
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