“She’s just a girl… in a serial killer’s body…Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton star in FREAKY. In Theaters Friday the 13th of November…” Numerous modern horror movies all fall within the same creative confines and rarely seem to venture out of a strict set of cliché’s or norms. Movies with “body swaps,” “time loops,” unexpected “twists,” and “surprise” endings are impressed upon the viewer as radical and often forgotten within mere moments of watching a film. Endless movies and television shows try to shock the viewer by being “different” and, often, come off as flat or, worse pathetic attempts at capturing one’s interest. Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions, newest release “Freaky,” defies initial trepidation. It is one of the most refreshing, innovative(yet familiar) horror movies in recent memory that overcomes a somewhat predictable plot with quality acting and standout performances from both comedy icon Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton. Freaky takes the body-swap/horror/magic movie format and turns it on its head.
Freaky is a dark thriller, and it is as scary as it is funny, creating an outrageous and entertaining blend of horror and humor, with no shortage of gore. Designed as a homage to teen-horror slashers and “coming of age” movies, Freaky is self-aware in its storyline and baseline characterization, allowing actor performances to thrive within the context of familiar horror frameworks. Best described at times as a homage to the horror cinema of generations past, Freaky injects new life, and energy into a genre that has been plagued with a lack of fun, and an overreliance on twists and surprises that prevent viewers from building any sort of emotional attachment.
Self-Aware and Smart
Freaky is unapologetic in its presentation that this is a horror-comedy with strong homages to movies of the ’80s. Traditional horror “storylines” involving high school teens, serial killers, and horror slashers are represented and paid tribute to in the story which surrounds the “Blissfield Butcher” (Vince Vaughn) and a magical “body-swap” transferring the soul of this cold killer into a teen poised to take on the traditional role of “horror hero” who is already searching for answers to life’s challenges. From a “storyline” perspective, Freaky feels familiar; it is discernibly blunt without major twists and does not complicate or overanalyze the motivations underlying the mass gore and interpersonal conflicts faced by each character. What has been accomplished, however, is the creation of a platform that allows each actor to embody their character(s) and breathe life into this wild horror-comedy that embraces gratuitous gore and allows the actors to portray meaningful characters that connect with diverse audiences.
The “Blissfield Butcher” legend and “Aztec-magic” underlying the “body swap” story piece serve as a foundational plotline that allows performances to shine, and horror/chaos to ensue. Never overthought, and in some cases perhaps to “thin” in terms of characterization, the nonstop action, gore, likable (and unlikeable) characters, and stellar performances from Vaughn and Newton make Freaky an absolute joy to watch. A genuinely wild experience, Freaky, is a celebration of teen-horror, with comedy, absurdity, and some scenes that quickly become unforgettable and, at times, slightly uncomfortable.
Strength in Performance
Pushing his abilities to the limit, Vaughn is masterful, embodying both a teenage girl and psychotic callous, serial killer with ease. Vaughn’s performance is convincing enough to carry each scene and is rightfully one of the centerpieces of a film that does not take itself too seriously. “Freaky “builds appreciation for the “characters” defined in the movie’s universe. Vaughn playing the role of “The Butcher” is the perfect definition of a hybrid horror slasher character and over the top comedy character that embodies the film’s outlandish yet constantly engaging pace. Opposed to “The Bucher” are Kathryn Newton’s “Millie Kessler” and a group of close friends that bring together a “coming of age” storyline in which each confronts a variety of social, personal, and emotional challenges while joining forces to battle the infamous “Butcher” and return to normalcy. It is by no means a spoiler that “Millie” and “The Butcher” “swap bodies,” but it is the specific embodiment of both “personalities” after the “swap,” which makes for compelling entertainment.
Vince Vaughn embodies a teenage girl, faced with various challenges, and now dealing with the body and look of a well-known killer. At the same time, Newton does an equally fantastic job at portraying both a vulnerable, likable heroine to a vicious, bloodthirsty killer. “Freaky” is one of the most enjoyable horror-comedy movies of recent memory that guides viewers along a predictable journey carried by strong character development driven by the standout performances of each actor. While not industry-breaking, “Freaky” is one of the most entertaining tributes to slasher-horror cinema and one that is perhaps one of Vince Vaughn’s finest movies playing to his ability to generate laughs as well as play a convincing violent killer. “Freaky” is a must-see for those who love horror and comedies and are looking for a fresh take on a familiar genre.
This November, on Friday the 13th, prepare to get Freaky with a twisted take on the body-swap movie when a teenage girl switches bodies with a relentless serial killer.
Seventeen-year-old Millie Kessler (KATHRYN NEWTON, Blockers, HBO’s Big Little Lies) is just trying to survive the bloodthirsty halls of Blissfield High and the cruelty of the popular crowd. But when she becomes the newest target of The Butcher (VINCE VAUGHN), her town’s infamous serial killer, her senior year becomes the least of her worries.
When “The Butcher’s” mystical ancient dagger causes him and Millie to wake up in each other’s bodies, Millie learns that she has just 24 hours to get her body back before the switch becomes permanent, and she’s trapped in the form of a middle-aged maniac forever. The only problem is she now looks like a towering psychopath who’s the target of a city-wide manhunt while The Butcher looks like her and has brought his appetite for carnage to homecoming.
With some help from her friends—ultra-woke Nyla (CELESTE O’CONNOR, Ghostbusters: Afterlife), ultra-fabulous Joshua (MISHA OSHEROVICH, The Goldfinch) and her crush, Booker (URIAH SHELTON, Enter the Warriors Gate)—Millie races against the clock to reverse the curse while The Butcher discovers that having a female teen body is the perfect cover for a little homecoming killing spree.
From JASON BLUM (Halloween, The Invisible Man) and the deliciously debased mind of writer-director CHRISTOPHER LANDON (Happy Death Day, the Paranormal Activity franchise) comes a pitch-black horror-comedy about a slasher, a senior and the brutal truth about high school.
Freaky is written by Landon and MICHAEL KENNEDY (Fox’s Bordertown). The film is produced by Blumhouse Productions in association with Divide/Conquer. The executive producers are COUPER SAMUELSON and JEANETTE VOLTURNO.
The film also stars ALAN RUCK (HBO’s Succession) as sexist shop teacher Mr. Bernardi, KATIE FINNERAN (TV’s Why Women Kill) playing Millie’s overprotective mother, Coral, and DANA DRORI (Hulu’s High Fidelity) playing Millie’s tough, police officer sister, Charlene.
The film’s director of photography is LAURIE ROSE (Pet Sematary), and the production designer is HILLARY ANDUJAR (The Wind). The editor is BEN BAUDHUIN (Happy Death Day 2U), and the costume designer is WHITNEY ANNE ADAMS (Happy Death Day 2U). The music is by BEAR McCREARY (Godzilla: King of the Monsters).
Something tricky that filmmakers of all genres grapple with is making sure their projects are fresh, new, and different. Director Christopher Landon has broken that code, both in the characters he writes on the page and the actors he finds to play them. “The old adage is true: Everything’s been done before,” Landon says. “When I approach projects, I try to figure out a way to make a fresh take from an old concept. The idea of doing a body-swap slasher movie just clicked and made a ton of sense to me, and for all my stories, I’ve always thought that it’s critical to start from a place that’s very character-driven. This movie felt like a perfect opportunity to do that in a really entertaining way.”
Millie Kessler/“The Butcher”–Kathryn Newton
Millie is a 17-year-old high schooler who is focused on her education and extracurriculars. She likes to keep a low profile at school and spends most of her time with her two best friends, Nyla and Josh. Millie is portrayed by Kathryn Newton, who has recently starred in Blockers and HBO’s Big Little Lies. “Millie is a lot like I was in high school,” Newton says. “She has a solid friend group and that’s all she needs. She’s just trying to get through senior year. She doesn’t need the “Blissfield Butcher” taking over her body, but it happens, and it actually helps her grow as a person in ways she’d never expect.”
Millie oftentimes doubts her strength and power, which causes her to tend to live for other people rather than for herself and her aspirations. “Millie is a wallflower when we meet her in this film,” Landon says. “Her father passed away a couple years ago and her family was a bit broken apart after that, which has left her feeling lost. There are things that she desires, but she doesn’t have the fortitude to stand up for them.”
Millie’s low-profile persona doesn’t last for long because she becomes the target of the Blissfield Butcher, the town’s serial killer. When “The Butcher” uses an ancient dagger on Millie, it causes her and the killer to swap bodies. This meant that Newton was not only tasked with playing Millie in Millie’s body, but also “The Butcher” in Millie’s body. “I was excited to challenge myself with not only playing two separate roles, but two roles on the same days,” Newton says. “I would be Millie in one scene and then the very next scene I’d be “The Butcher.” People kept asking me if it was more challenging to play Millie or The Butcher, but every time I had a scene playing Millie, I thought she was more difficult, and then I would play the Butcher and think, ‘Well, this is really hard, too.’ The biggest difference between the two characters is their physicality, so I had to stay really focused on my posture and how I carried myself through the scenes. My feet were always really sore after playing “The Butcher.”
Newton found it helpful that her director also wrote the script, which made him very close to the characters. “Chris cared so much about the integrity of the characters,” Newton says. “He had the whole picture in his head about what he wanted each scene to look like. I loved working with him because he was confident in me and in my character choices, while still being a guiding light for me, too.”
In a sense, the story of Freaky is centered on Millie’s coming-of-age and finding herself. “Freaky is about a teenage girl becoming a strong, independent woman,” Newton says. “When Millie is in The Butcher’s body, she feels really powerful. She learns that everyone listens to him, and she wonders why she hasn’t been manifesting this power that she’s had all along.”
Director Landon adds: “Something I fell in love with about the concept of this movie was that it gave us the opportunity to speak to a character that feels lost, ignored, and swept under the rug. I was excited to explore how Millie discovers her power by first inhabiting a man’s body and then later discovering that she doesn’t need a man’s body to feel powerful. I thought that was a really important message.”
“The Butcher”/Millie Kessler–Vince Vaughn
“The Butcher,” portrayed by Vince Vaughn, is the serial killer in the town of Blissfield, who targets teenagers. He’s hulking and terrifying, and when he finds an ancient dagger called The Dola, he decides that it will be his new go-to weapon. “The Butcher is a menacing force,” Vaughn says. “He’s a terrible serial killer and, like a lot of villains in these types of movies, he’s kind of a loner.”
Landon and his writing partner, Michael Kennedy, envisioned “The Butcher” as being an amalgamation of various classic horror movie serial killers. “He’s a little bit Jason Voorhees, a little bit Michael Myers, and there’s even a Terminator-esque quality to him,” Landon says. “We wanted to create a cold-blooded, robotic killing machine. We opted not to get too buried in any mythology or backstory for the character because at the end of the day, that wasn’t really the point. The point was to have a relentless maniac who’s bloodthirsty and really into killing teenagers.”
When “The Butcher” attacks Millie with The Dola, it causes the two to swap bodies. This meant that for a large portion of the film, Vaughn plays Millie in The Butcher’s body. “Vince had to become a teenage girl, and not just in mannerisms and the way he spoke or the way that he moved, but he had to fully embody a young girl who has hopes and desires and fears and to fully realize them in a way that’s convincing,” Landon says. “That’s a really tough thing to do. It was fun watching him discover and inhabit Millie in a way that was honest. He was never mimicking or pretending to be a girl. I always believed that he felt what she felt, and I loved that about his performance.”
Vaughn elaborates on the inner workings of Millie’s mindset: “Millie is a sweet girl who’s just trying to find her place in high school and coming into her own as an adult,” Vaughn says. “Like a lot of people her age, she’s trying to navigate the social structure of school and come to terms with some of the things she struggles with at home.”
Landon appreciated that Vaughn came to the table ready and loaded with ideas. “I found it so refreshing that Vince truly cared about the film and the characters, and he wanted to make it as good as he possibly could,” Landon says. “Having an actor who was coming from that place made the process so much better, and there was a real honesty to his approach.”
Vaughn was excited to add a new type of role to his résumé. “I liked that the role was different than anything I’d done before,” Vaughn says. “I also liked the mash-up of the comedic and horror elements and the tone that combining the two creates. I felt like the laughter made the scares more palatable. Chris did a great job of blending the two together. He has great energy and a great eye for directing. He really knows what he wants from his actors, which made things fun for us. He knows exactly what should be shown on screen in order to get a reaction from the audience.”
While playing two separate roles in one film can prove to be difficult, Landon was exceptionally impressed with Vaughn’s portrayal of “The Butcher”. “Funny enough, I thought that the killer stuff came easy for him, which scared me sometimes,” Landon says, laughing. “He was so good at it!”
Nyla Chones–Celeste O’Connor
Nyla is Millie’s loyal best friend. She’s artistic and is often outspoken and bold about her opinions. She’s also grounded and clearheaded, making her the den mother of the group. Nyla is portrayed by Celeste O’Connor, who recently starred in the independent feature Selah and the Spades. “Nyla is like my slightly artsier alter ego,” O’Connor says. “She’s the mature one of the group and is focused on solving problems. In a way, she’s the moral compass. She doesn’t care about popularity or other things that most high schoolers care about. She just wants to spend her time with people who are funny and interesting, which is why she surrounds herself with Josh and Millie.”
Josh Detmer–Misha Osherovich
Josh, portrayed by The Goldfinch‘s Misha Osherovich, is Millie and Nyla’s friend. Like Nyla, Josh is fiercely loyal and protective of Millie. He is fearless, wears his heart on his sleeve and is proudly gay. “Josh is a very outlandish, confident, wonderful gay human being,” Osherovich says. “He has some badass moments and really comes into his own in this film, and I don’t think we’ve seen that from a queer character in horror yet, which is why I was so excited to play this role.”
Landon’s co-writer, Michael Kennedy, is especially excited for audiences to see Josh on screen. “Horror didn’t provide a lot of characters like Josh when I was a young, closeted, gay kid struggling to figure out who I was in Ohio,” Kennedy says. “Now, horror will have a character like Josh who is unabashedly himself. He lives out loud and is free, and is also smart, funny and ultimately a ride-or-die friend. To be responsible for creating that character is really special to me. Josh is really who I wish I was when I was 17. He is my do-over. And when I see that character, I think, ‘Wait a minute, I made that character.’ I’m really proud of that and excited for not only the LGBTQ community to have a character like that, but for young kids to be able to see a character like that, too. If a queer kid looks at Josh and feels seen, nothing will make me prouder.”
Booker Strode–Uriah Shelton
Booker Strode, Millie’s crush, is portrayed by Uriah Shelton of Hulu’s Looking for Alaska. Landon and Kennedy are both hardcore John Carpenter fans, so they thought it would be fun to include a nod to Halloween‘s Laurie Strode in Booker’s last name. He means well but can be intimidated by peer pressure. He doesn’t always have the courage to do the right thing in front of his friends. “When Michael and I created Booker, we knew he had to check off certain boxes,” Landon says. “He was the cute football player that all the girls in school had a crush on, but we also wanted to give him more layers. He’s conflicted with his own group of friends and where he stands in the social pecking order of the high school. He’s not really his authentic self, and he doesn’t really like the people that he’s surrounded himself with.”
While Millie may not know it yet, Booker harbors a crush for her as well. “It’s not only Millie that’s had a crush on Booker,” Shelton says. “He’s had a crush on her, too, and that doesn’t change when she turns into a 6’5″ man. He’s not ready for any of the body-swap drama that goes down, but he gets roped in and pulled along. But it’s a worthy cause, you know. It’s love. The nice thing is that it shows that it’s not a surface-level crush. The physicality doesn’t matter to Booker; it’s about what’s on the inside. Plus, Vince Vaughn is not a bad-looking guy.”
As someone who’d looked up to Vaughn for years, Shelton was thrilled to share many of his scenes with him. “It was freaky to me finding out that Vince Vaughn was going to be The Butcher, no pun intended,” Shelton says. “I grew up watching all of his movies and just thought, ‘How am I going to keep up with this guy?’ But he was so nice, personable, and humble. He was great at helping us figure out how to make scenes funnier, and he and Chris worked so well together.”
From the start, Landon saw something in Shelton that he knew would make him perfect for the role. “There’s something about Uriah’s demeanor and the way he walks into a room that instantly puts you at ease and makes you think, ‘This is a good guy,'” Landon says. “There was also something young Brad Pitt-ish about him that I saw in his audition. He had a magnetic vibe about him that made me think he would be a really good match and complement to Millie.”
Charlene Kessler–Dana Drori
Charlene, played by Dana Drori of ABC’s High Fidelity, is Millie’s older sister. Charlene is a police officer in Blissfield, and although at times she can come off as strident and unyielding, she has her sister’s best interest at heart and cares a lot about her. “Charlene loves Millie, but they misunderstand each other at times,” Drori says. “Charlene is very tough. She’s not one to mess with. She wishes Millie was a little bit tougher and that she would have more of a backbone and stick up for herself more, especially when it comes to their mom.”
Landon adds that Charlene is Millie’s opposite in a lot of ways. “Charlene is driven, single-minded, and has processed her loss of her father differently than Millie did,” Landon says. “Charlene threw herself into work and into action. But she also has to be sort of like a mother figure to Millie because their mom is really struggling with her grief. Charlene is the tough guy, but she’s also a protector. Dana brought that edge to the role, but you get a sense, in the way that she crafted the character, that it was a veneer and that underneath the façade, Charlene is really hurting.”
Drori appreciated that Landon created a very collaborative set. “Chris knew exactly what he wanted, but he also let us bring what we could to the table,” Drori says. “I think the best directors incorporate both sides. You need someone who has a specific story to tell but who also allows the actors the freedom to play with their characters.”
Coral Kessler–Katie Finneran
Coral is Millie and Charlene’s mother. She’s a bit overbearing and is trying to hold on to Millie rather than allowing Millie to be independent, but that overprotectiveness is really an extension of her grief following the death of her husband. There’s a sense that Coral is worn out, but she puts on a brave face and loves her two daughters. The role is played by Katie Finneran of Netflix’s Bloodline, and Landon had been a fan even before casting her in the role. “Katie has an extensive Broadway background, and when you meet her, she’s full of energy, ideas, and humor,” Landon says. “She really understood Coral and the struggle that the character is going through in feeling lonely and disconnected. She understood the smothering aspect of her character. Coral is someone who relied on her husband and thought she would walk through life with him, and when that changed abruptly, she found herself with an enormous amount of weight, grief, and responsibility on her shoulders. She has succumbed to her grief in some ways, partly through drinking alcohol and partly through smothering Millie, because she’s afraid of being on her own now. She knows that Charlene’s got one foot out the door and feels like Millie might be next. Katie was able to bring so much empathy and compassion to the role.”
Finneran adds that when she and Landon met to discuss the film, they immediately hit it off. “I was a huge fan of the script,” Finneran says. “Chris reimagines the horror genre, and I was giddy to play Coral. Chris directs with playfulness, humor, and an esprit de corps that only surfaces in the presence of a true artist. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.”
Universal Pictures presents a Blumhouse production—in association with Divide/Conquer—a Christopher Landon film: Freaky, starring Vince Vaughn, Kathryn Newton, Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, and Alan Ruck. The film’s casting is by Terri Taylor, CSA, and Sarah Domeier Lindo, CSA, and the music are by Bear McCreary. The costume designer is Whitney Anne Adams. The film is edited by Ben Baudhuin, and the production designer is Hillary Andujar. The director of photography is Laurie Rose. The film’s executive producers are Couper Samuelson and Jeanette Volturno, and its producer is Jason Blum. Freaky is written by Michael Kennedy & Christopher Landon and is directed by Christopher Landon.
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