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

Hacksaw Ridge

For F*** Magazine

HACKSAW RIDGE 

Cast : Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Rachel Griffiths
Genre : Drama/History/War
Run Time : 2h 19min
Opens : 19 January 2017
Rating : M18 (Violence and Gore)

hacksaw-ridge-posterStepping behind the camera for his first film as director in ten years, Mel Gibson tells the true story of war hero Desmond T. Doss (Garfield). Doss was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Doss’ father Tom (Weaving), a traumatised World War I veteran, often lashes out at his wife Bertha (Griffiths). Doss’ brother Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic) enlists in the military to serve in World War II. Doss decides to enlist, but his strongly-held beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist forbid him from taking a life, or even touching a weapon. Doss’ superiors Sergeant Howell (Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Worthington) try to get Doss discharged out of fear that Doss will be unable to contribute as a soldier. Doss persists, training as a medic, and his unit is eventually deployed to the Pacific theatre. In the Battle of Okinawa, Doss’ unit faces off against hordes of Japanese troops atop the cliff face of the Maeda Escarpment, nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge”. Without firing a single bullet, Doss goes about rescuing his fellow men who are wounded on the battlefield, hoping to make it home to his wife Dorothy (Palmer).

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For years, the real-life Desmond Doss, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 87, resisted the idea of a film being made about him. Doss feared that his religious beliefs would be misrepresented on the big screen, and was finally convinced in 2001. Hacksaw Ridge was stuck in development hell, as producers Bill Mechanic and David Permut tried for 14 years to get the film made. Mechanic sought Gibson to direct, and Gibson agreed after turning Hacksaw Ridge down twice. While Gibson has some ways to go if Hollywood at large is to forgive him for his inflammatory anti-Semitic outbursts, homophobic remarks and other erratic behaviour, Hacksaw Ridge is a big step along Gibson’s path to redemption. Permut, himself Jewish and gay, has publicly stated that Gibson is not the man that tabloid headlines make him out to be.

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It’s a positive thing that Hacksaw Ridge finally got made and that Doss’ story will now reach a wider audience than it ever has. The real-life Doss is worlds away from the pre-conceived notion of a square-jawed action hero who charges into battle with guns blazing, and this underdog quality is quietly compelling. Garfield, as rangy and awkward as he is charming, imbues Doss with a folksy charm and an unwavering earnestness. Through its depiction of Doss’ Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and the opposition with which he was met, Hacksaw Ridge paints a vivid portrait of someone who stuck to his guns. Maybe that’s not the best way of putting it, but you get what we mean.

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Hacksaw Ridge spends a little too long setting up Doss’ childhood and his training at Fort Jackson before his deployment. We understand the need for meaningful character development, but in between Doss’ courtship of Dorothy and his tumultuous relationship with his father, these earlier scenes feel embellished for dramatic effect. The character of Smitty (Bracey), Doss’ squad mate who accuses Doss of cowardice, is fictional. However, the journey Smitty undertakes to respect Doss’ beliefs and his heroism is moving all the same.

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On a relatively modest budget of $40 million, Gibson pulls off explosive battle sequences which are effectively concussive and chaotic. The Japanese forces are depicted as ferocious, relentless and faceless – this is not a war movie which even remotely attempts to give the enemy a shred of empathy. The battlefield carnage is excessive – we see viscera strewn all over the place, limbs blasted off and rats picking at corpses of the fallen. Perhaps it’s a moot point to call out a war film for being “too violent”, but Gibson sometimes crosses the line from authentically grim to self-indulgently gory. It’s not as pronounced as in The Passion of the Christ, which was also a graphically violent faith-based film, but is in that vein.

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Hacksaw Ridge is squarely Garfield’s to carry, but there are supporting performances of note here too. Vaughn plays very much against type as a harsh drill sergeant and is surprisingly believable in the part. Weaving’s portrayal of Doss’ father Tom is menacing but also sympathetic, with the audience understanding that it’s the trauma of war that has made Tom this way. Palmer brings a dose of old Hollywood glamour to the part of Dorothy, but as is often the case in war films, the character amounts to little more than “the wife waiting back home”.

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The screenplay by Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan contains moments that border on being cheesy, including when Sgt. Howell announces “we’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy”. Perhaps it should be expected from a war movie about a pacifist, but Hacksaw Ridge’s message of standing by one’s principles seems a little at odds with how the camera lingers on grisly brutality. Even taking all this into account, Hacksaw Ridge manages to be rousing and emotional, a grand tribute to an unlikely hero.

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Summary: Beneath the over-the-top carnage and war movie clichés lies a fascinating true story brought to life by a remarkable performance from Andrew Garfield.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong