Freaky review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Christopher Landon
Cast : Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Uriah Shelton, Alan Ruck, Melissa Collazo
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 1 h 43 min
Opens : 12 November 2020
Rating : NC16/M18

“Body swap slasher movie” – that’s a killer elevator pitch right there. This movie’s initial title was Freaky Friday the 13th, which was likely changed due to rights issues, but tells you all you need to know. Happy Death Day director Christopher Landon continues his collaboration with Blumhouse, Hollywood’s reigning horror studio, with this horror comedy.

The Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) is a serial killer who has become the stuff of urban legend. Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) is a shy Bayfield Valley High School student. After an altercation involving a cursed Aztec dagger, they swap bodies. Millie, now in the guise of the Butcher, must convince her best friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich) of her far-fetched predicament. Meanwhile, the Butcher, inhabiting Millie’s body, sets about murdering the other high school students. Millie-as-the-Butcher must retrieve the dagger to reverse the transformation within 24 hours, or it will become permanent.

Landon began his career as a screenwriter and wrote four Paranormal Activity films, directing one. He directed the juvenile, largely off-putting Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, before establishing himself as “the comedy slasher guy” with Happy Death Day and its sequel. Freaky sees Landon upping his game, refining a lot of the techniques he used in the Happy Death Day films. There’s an economy to the way Freaky sets things up and pays them off, and the structure works. This also looks slightly more expensive than many other Blumhouse movies do, with the opening sequence in a mansion filled with antiquities being an atmospheric way to begin the movie.

It’s been almost 25 years since Scream, the meta horror-comedy that defined a generation of slasher movies. Freaky follows in those bloody footprints with a healthy amount of wink-wink genre awareness, but never becomes self-indulgent. This is considerably gorier than Happy Death Day, which was a PG13 movie, while Freaky very much isn’t. Tonally, this works: it’s scary when it needs to be, it’s funny when it needs to be, and it’s a little emotional when it needs to be. There’s even a bit of social commentary, with the-Butcher-as-Millie taking on high school boys who behave in a sexually aggressive manner. The plot device of the dagger is efficient – there’s no need for circuitous explanations about the mechanics of the body swapping. There’s also an inspired visual effects flourish during one crucial moment that sells the body swap well.

While Landon generally has a handle on the tone, Freaky’s cheekiness can sometimes get the better of it. Bear McCreary’s heightened, arch score pretty much announces “hi, I’m a horror movie score, get ready for some jump scares”. Depending on your mood, this can either heighten everything else going on, or pull one out of it a bit. Some moments of comedy are a bit too broad, with the scene in which Nyla and Josh consult the Spanish teacher about the engraving on the dagger sticking out as quite silly. Plenty of the jokes land, but some of them don’t – several attempts at approximating Gen Z dialogue miss the mark, but it’s not as bad as it could have been.

A key ingredient to any body swap story is the differences between the two people doing the swapping. While Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton are physically distinct, there are times when it feels like the movie might have been a bit miscast. Vaughn’s casting is likely a nod to the misbegotten 1998 remake of Psycho that he starred in. He is very good at affecting the teenage girl-ness – not quite to the level of Jack Black in the Jumanji movies, but almost there. While Vaughn is physically imposing, he’s just not very scary in this, and for it to work completely, the Butcher must be convincingly frightening before the swap takes place. The excellent supporting cast does make up for it, with Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich being very likeable as the stock best friends. Alan Ruck is also good as a particularly odious shop teacher.

Freaky largely plays by genre rules but has plenty of fun with them and makes the most out of its fantastic premise.

Summary: A teen horror comedy with a bit more kick than most examples of the genre, Freaky knows what it is and has fun while it’s at it.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Happy Death Day movie review

For inSing

HAPPY DEATH DAY 

Director : Christopher Landon
Cast : Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Rob Mello, Cariella Smith, Phi Vu
Genre : Horror/Thriller
Run Time : 96 mins
Opens : 26 October 2017
Rating : PG-13

Live. Die. Repeat. Tom Cruise endured that ordeal in Edge of Tomorrow, and now, so must Jessica Rothe. In this horror thriller, Rothe plays Tree Gelbman, a college student and Kappa sorority girl at Bayfield University. On her birthday, she wakes up in the dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard), a guy she met at a wild party the night before. That night, Rothe is killed by an assailant wearing a Bayfield Baby mask, the Bayfield Babies being the school’s football team. Tree awakes, gradually realising she is caught in a loop, reliving this same day over and over, repeatedly dying at the hands of the masked killer. Tree must solve her own murder and outsmart the killer to break the cycle and live another day.

Happy Death Day comes from Blumhouse, the production company which specialises in low-budget, high-return horror flicks. Director Christopher Landon has co-written five films in Blumhouse’s Paranormal Activity franchise and directed one. Happy Death Day isn’t very scary, but it’s plenty of fun. This teen-aimed horror flick is surprisingly funny, a hybrid of Scream, Mean Girls and, naturally, Groundhog Day which is efficiently constructed. The time loop time device is tried and tested, but Happy Death Day is sufficiently self-aware, toying with audience expectations and cleverly executing numerous plot twists.

The movie revels in its campiness without coming off as obnoxious, trading heavily on college movie archetypes. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel and has much in common with the teen slashers that were popular in the 90s-early 2000s, but it isn’t derivative in a dull way. Screenwriter Scott Lobdell is best known as a comic book writer, having worked on several X-Men books and Teen Titans. There’s a sly wit to the script and some of the dialogue is genuinely hilarious. It turns out that Happy Death Day has been floating around Hollywood for a while – back in 2007, when it was known as ‘Half to Death’, the project was set up at Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production house and set to star Megan Fox.

While the film doesn’t provide a satisfactory explanation for the time loop, it resorts to neither a howl-worthy cop-out or shameless sequel-begging. The set-pieces aren’t particularly inspired, and this reviewer would have preferred Tree’s deaths to be a little more elaborate and staged with more panache.

Rothe displays astute comic timing and is a fun leading lady to watch. Tree is not the nicest person in the world, and is self-centred and shallow. Much like Bill Murray’s Phil Connors character in Groundhog Day, Tree must gradually learn to be a better person. Unlike Phil Connors, getting brutally murdered is part of the deal. Many horror films suffer from unlikeable protagonists that are difficult to root for, but while Tree starts off that way, there’s a satisfying arc that her character undergoes.

Broussard plays the sweet guy who helps Tree parse her mind-bending situation, and is quite charming in the role. Rachel Matthews visibly enjoys playing the insufferable sorority president Danielle. It’s highly unlikely you’ll have heard of any of the actors in this film, but that’s part of what makes it cheap to make.

Like a birthday cake laced with a bit of booze, Happy Death Day is a delightful confection with a kick. It’s silly, but is carried by enough knowing wit that it’s easy to enjoy.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

For F*** Magazine

SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

Director : Christopher Landon
Cast : Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joseph Morgan, Sarah Dumont, David Koechner, Halston Sage, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Cloris Leachman, Niki Koss, Blake Anderson
Genre : Comedy/Horror
Run Time : 93 mins
Opens : 12 November 2015
Rating : M18 (Nudity and Violence)

Simple guidelines for any scout to follow in case of a zombie outbreak: be prepared in body, be prepared in mind and try to keep said mind from being devoured when the undead invade. In this horror comedy, Ben (Sheridan) and his friend Carter (Miller) are tired of being scouts, earning the mockery of their peers. Scout Leader Rogers (Koechner), clearly already dead inside, is the leader of their little group. The only reason they’re still scouts is to humour their friend Augie (Morgan). During a camp out, Carter convinces Ben to ditch Augie to head for a secret party which all the cool kids, including Carter’s sister Kendall (Sage) and jock Jeff (Schwarzenegger), are attending. On their way to the party, Ben and Carter realise something is amiss, when they’re attacked by hordes of zombies following an accident at a genetics lab. Strip club waitress Denise (Dumont), handy with a shotgun, helps get Carter, Ben and Augie to safety as they fight for their lives against the savage infected.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is one of those movies where you know what you’re getting into based on the title: there’ll be wanton goofiness, lots of gooey viscera and gratuitous nudity for good measure. Director/co-writer Christopher Landon, who’s penned multiple Paranormal Activity films and directed one, turns his attention to a more gleefully exploitative brand of horror, reminiscent of the low-budget splatter flicks of the 80s. However, the fact that Scouts Guide isn’t aiming particularly high doesn’t mean it’s exempt from criticism for stooping so low. Aimed squarely at easily-amused, libidinous, and perhaps not especially bright teenagers, the movie is painfully lowbrow and often vulgar, packed with gross-out gags that are intended to be shocking but come off as awkwardly unfunny instead. Interestingly, co-writers Carrie Evans and Emi Mochizuki wrote the very G-rated College Road Trip, and Scouts Guide was initially conceived as a kid-friendly PG-13 film. It’s quite possible it would have been even worse.

The way that Scouts Guide panders to its intended demographic is extremely cynical, in a flailing “hey, this is what the teenagers wanna see, right?” sort of way. We’re certainly not asking for high art, and this reviewer will admit that he was amused by a bizarre scene in which someone sings a Britney Spears ditty with a zombie, but being constantly pelted with crass silliness isn’t our idea of a good time. There is no invention, no reworking the formula, no witty commentary, just lazy regurgitation of the type of violence and sex you’d try to get a get a glimpse of behind your parents’ back. The most worthwhile element of the film is the old-fashioned, tactile and supremely gory makeup effects, devised by Tony Gardner. Gardner was nominated for an Oscar for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, and his first professional gig was assisting Rick Baker on the set of the Thriller music video, so he brings some pedigree to the otherwise embarrassing enterprise.

Sheridan is earnest in as bland as possible a manner, playing the straight-arrow default leader protagonist. This suggests he’ll do just fine as Cyclops in next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Miller plays the stereotype to the hilt as the slacker best friend, coming off far more annoying than funny at every turn. Morgan, who’s supposed the put-upon loser who tags along in films of this sort, does manage to be sympathetic. Dumont’s Denise is this idealised fantasy girl, plucky, badass and smoking hot. It’s empowerment as envisioned by a 13 year old – Dumont spends the whole movie in a tight white tank top and tiny denim shorts as the camera leers. Dumont doesn’t quite have the chops to pull it off, but at least she looks like she’s having fun. Patrick Schwarzenegger, scion of Arnold, is a passable condescending jock. Koechner had more to do in Piranha 3DD and we’ve got to feel sorry for American national treasure Cloris Leachman. The 89-year-old veteran actress really didn’t have to say yes to this dreck, but at least she’s sporting.

There is a place in the cinematic firmament for dumb movies packed with blood, guts and boobs to cater to post-pubescent male audiences, but they don’t have to be quite as pointless as this. Zombieland treaded similar territory, albeit with more wit and verve. The animated film ParaNorman, with its gang of kids battling a zombie uprising, was far funnier and managed to be genuinely poignant without pandering to the basest instincts. If you’re a gore-hound, the grisly effects work will hold your interest, but you’ll have seen it done better elsewhere. If you go in for juvenile gross-out gags and excessive ribaldry, then we’re not stopping you from leaving your brain (and any sense of taste) at the door.        

Summary: This sophomoric horror comedy panders to the lowest common denominator instead of displaying any genuine affection for or clever self-awareness of the genre.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars