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  Freaky Turnabout Terror
Year: 2020
Director: Christopher Landon
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Celeste O'Connor, Misha Osherovich, Katie Finneran, Alan Ruck, Dana Drori, Uriah Shelton, Melissa Collazo, Emily Holder, Nicholas Stargel, Kelly Lamor Wilson, Mitchell Hoog, Alonzo Ward, Brooke Jaye Taylor, Magnus Diehl
Genre: Horror, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's a story they tell to frighten the kids around this town, about a so-called Butcher who some years ago went on a rampage and murdered a bunch of people, but the latest generation express plenty of scepticism about that - does it not only happen in slasher flicks? This quartet of teens are sitting around drinking tonight at one of their number's rich parents' house while they are out, but what they do not reckon on is the Butcher being all too real and seeking something in the basement. It's a dagger that has magical properties, just the thing for a serial killer to continue their activities in the disguise of a different body...

Co-writer and director Christopher Landon, after a spell writing Paranormal Activity movies for Blumhouse productions, was by this stage branching off into genre mashups, most prominently his Happy Death Day efforts which had been a fair success for the horror company and picked up a cult following. They might have preferred a third instalment of those, but what they got was a shameless combination of Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th, maybe with a little of the original Child's Play thrown in for good measure with the Aztec dagger business: the attacker and the victim of the blade will swap bodies, rather than a mother and daughter.

Body swapping is nothing new in fiction, the book Vice Versa is probably the originator of the modern version, and the appeal of being able to see the world through the eyes of someone completely different - more importantly, and what you could get away with if you tried it - was one which had proved irresistible for audiences and creatives alike. But with gender a big deal in the twenty-twenties no matter how you identified, you might expect Landon to really commit to his conceit and have the swappers, a burly middle-aged man and a waiflike teenage girl, to go all out in exploring what the possibilities were for them both. But, well, not really, as if they had gone too weird they risked alienating the mainstream.

There were scenes where Vince Vaughn and his latest victim Kathryn Newton, playing bullied Millie, toyed with transgressive material, but the impression was the film was keener to lean on the horror angle, which after all was fair enough as that's what the audience had signed up for, not a lecture on modern gender politics. Every so often Millie as The Butcher got into a weird situation, such as using her penis for the first time to relieve herself in the gents', or braving a kiss with the boy she fancied while still looking like Vaughn until seconds later deciding, you know, this isn't a great idea until I'm back in my usual body. Although it didn’t come across in the first half hour when everyone except Millie’s two best friends (black Celeste O'Connor and gay Misha Osherovich among a sea of white and straight folks) and her smothering widowed mother (Katie Finneran), are so awful, Freaky was actually a comedy, and you had a while to wait for the laughs to arrive; to their credit, the absurdity was well-observed in places.

Some cliches the movie was not so keen to subvert, on the other hand. Newton was clearly the most beautiful character in the story, so it did not make sense that nobody has noticed this because she dresses down and looks a bit klutzy, only to undergo a "miraculous" transformation when The Butcher gets inside her form: they might at least give her a pair of glasses to remove at a crucial moment if they were going for this hackneyed trope. On the other hand, the real assets here were Vaughn and Newton, who were obviously having a ball trying out roles they would ordinarily never get to attempt, as the villain never gets to be the final girl and vice versa. There were interesting developments, as Millie discovers she has the strength of Jason Vorhees, while the Butcher finds that power has deserted him and he has to employ his wits to get his kills (so why change?), and a tricksy feminist angle is found where everyday sexism is combatted. Of course, The Butcher had to stay a stock character with little personality as a result, but even so, each star found enough leeway to make this amusingly worthwhile. Music by Bear McCreary.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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