GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Christopher Landon.
Starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton.
Horror comedy, US, 102 minutes, certificate 15.
Released in cinemas in the UK 2nd July, 2021 by Universal Pictures.
Writer and director Christopher Landon seems to have a patent on combining old school slasher movie tropes with contemporary humour. After previously mixing the genre up with Groundhog Day in his HAPPY DEATH DAY films he mixes and matches yet again to come up with this high concept take that has no doubt already been nicknamed Freaky Friday the 13th by many with its tale of a teenage girl swapping bodies with a hulking masked killer.
Right from the off you can see where things are heading with a huge blood-soaked title card announcing when the action takes place, “WEDNESDAY THE 11TH”, and a small group of teenagers engaging in swapping urban legends, drinking alcohol and the ultimate cardinal slasher movie sin punishable by death, sex. Within minutes The Blissfield Butcher makes his entrance. Reminiscent of a certain camp dwelling mass murderer with his blank faced, open socketed mask, measured pace and a distinctive line in over-the-top murder the Butcher’s eye is caught by a dagger which turns out to have mystical properties. Unfortunately for the Butcher those properties cause him to swap bodies with his next victim, Millie; a quiet shy girl smothered by her mother after her father’s death.
Waking up in the six-foot five body of her would be murderer Millie races against time to recover her own body while The Butcher makes the most of hiding in plain sight, able to sneak around high school, indulging his insatiable bloodlust.
This ingenious set-up works out mainly due to the two lead performances, particularly in regard to Vince Vaughn. After his collaborations with S. Craig Zahler in the ultraviolent and ultra-serious BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 and DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE this return to comedy is his most lighthearted and appealing performance since SWINGERS. Watching Vaughn run around gracelessly swinging his arms, biting his nails and acting nervously around the high school jock who Millie has a crush on is no doubt a huge selling point for those who would usually turn their noses up at slasher fare, but Newton also acquits herself well when she takes on the Butcher’s mannerisms. Especially when discovering her slight five foot plus frame isn’t ideally suited for mass slaughter but still managing to accomplish some surprisingly nasty kill scenes that will delight long-time fans of the genre.
Viewers of the HAPPY DEATH DAY films will already know of Landon’s progressive leanings, particularly in regard to sexuality. Those leanings are in full effect here employed to full comedic effect and emotional honesty. Whether it is Millie’s bitchy friend Isaac pretending to come out as straight to his understandably confused mother or Millie, in The Butcher’s body getting to know the high school jock she has a crush on the film explores gender fluidity as much as any earnest contemporary indie drama. The film could be accused by the less generous as pursuing a woke agenda, but it delights in skewering the minefield of political correctness that seems to pervade popular culture resulting in cancel culture for perceived slights against evolving tastes of some of the audience. Millie’s friend Nyla’s insistence on using the correct gender pronouns at the wrong time being a particular example.
Among other things it also lampoons high school films, delighting in putting the cliches of mean girls and nasty teachers through the slasher movie wringer. It results in what could be Landon’s best film yet. Funny, gory and surprisingly touching in places, FREAKY is a throwback to the glory days of the many genres it dabbles in. It also manages to accomplish that rare trick that eludes many slasher films with a heroine who is just as entertaining and interesting as its villain. That Vince Vaughn plays one of slasher cinemas greatest heroines will no doubt mark it down as one of the genres most singular entries and entertaining comedies in quite some time.