Meet 17-year-old Millie, Blissfield High’s school mascot and, consequently, a victim of bullying. Her soft blond curls insinuate a kind introversion, further underscored by her floral wallpaper and Panic! At the Disco poster. Her best friends, flamboyant Josh and artsy Nyla, have always encouraged her to be herself.
Even more so, though, when she’s not in her own body.
Providing a fresh and edgier take on the 2003 movie “Freaky Friday,” starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, “Freaky” director Christopher Landon (“Happy Death Day,” “Paranormal Activity” films) combines humor and horror in this twist on the classic body-switching story.
“Freaky,” aptly released on Friday, Nov. 13, stars Kathryn Newton as Millie, who switches bodies with The Butcher (Vince Vaughn) — the local part-Jason, part-Michael Myers serial killer. After rumors of a serial killer ravaging the town’s irresponsible teenagers circulate throughout the high school, The Butcher stabs Millie with “La Dola,” a dagger which, because it’s a movie, has mystical abilities when used under the full moon at midnight. The switch provides The Butcher with the perfect disguise to find his next victim — the body of a teenage girl.
In this lighthearted high school slasher, Landon embraces the teen humor of “Mean Girls” and over-the-top gore of “Scary Movie” in a modern context. As part of a virtual roundtable with Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton, The Chronicle had the opportunity to interview the actors about their upcoming movie.
“It’s hard to do one genre well, let alone put both under a roof,” Vaughn said. “I think Chris [Landon] has done it with 'Happy Death Day' and I think with it being Blumhouse, he felt confident that the filmmakers involved would do a good job of balancing those things.”
Although it exudes an intentional cheesiness in its creatively gory murders, the movie still avoids tropes one would expect from its inspirations. No, the best friends don’t die first, and no, the serial killer and traumatized teen won’t embrace each other after seeing life from each other’s eyes.
“I love ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Friday the 13th,’ but this movie was so different to me because it kills all those tropes and cliches you see in those movies,” Newton said. “You think you’re going to have the final girl. But these things never stay the way they seem.”
In addition to skillfully executing the two genres, “Freaky” allows the actors to embrace characters across genders and generations. “Millie is Millie,” Newton explains, regardless of the body she’s in. This is telling of the actors’ comedic talent and range: I never thought I’d see Vince Vaughn wiggle his booty cheerleader-style or ask if he was “petite.”
“My intention was to build [the Butcher] as a real character,” Vaughn said. “I didn’t watch any other performances because I wanted to take an authentic journey of creating this character and having emotional depth, so that when I was in scenes with [Millie’s] mom or the boy [she] had a crush on, that I was really present as the character. The more you’re grounded and emotionally available and honest, it helps the audience buy the stuff that’s more elaborate or out of the box. And I think Kathryn does such a lovely job in the opening of the movie of walking through those experiences that we can relate to.”
Unfortunately, bullying is often one of those universal experiences. Millie is bullied by nearly everyone in her school. Obnoxious boys yell at her; snobby girls insult her discount clothes; even her teacher mocks her for being quiet. But, with both her new identity and her body’s new inhabitant, she takes revenge on these bullies — intentionally or not.
“I think the Butcher’s a predator,” Vaughn said. “He is the extreme of someone who is looking to prey on people’s self doubt or weakness. You see, sadly, that he is acutely attempting to find any way he can to destroy somebody. And I think that’s a lesson for everyone in life that, sometimes when people are saying things to you that feel very personal, they’re actually just looking for buttons to push to see if they can get you to doubt yourself. It’s not that they’re right. They’re just looking to get you to be self destructive. So it's really about, are you listening to your own voice in self love? Or are you giving the power to someone [who wants] to have a negative impact on you?”
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And in high school, these people are often unavoidable. “Freaky” is honestly reflective of today’s high schools in its inclusion of diverse friend groups and Spanish classes where no one really learns Spanish, but also reflective of the timeless pressure to be who you’re not before you even know who you are.
“I think the misleading thing with high school is, whether you’re a jock, or you’re nerdier or whatever label or category, there’s more in common than not,” Vaughn said. “Everyone in that stage is trying to figure out who they are and [where they] feel safe socially. I think as we get older, hopefully, we all get more comfortable being ourselves and caring less what people think.”
For Millie, learning self-love comes from seeing how the Butcher changes her look with a red-lip-leather-jacket confidence. She feels empowered being in the Butcher’s body, not only through her new strength of a six-foot-something man, but seeing her own body in a new light.
“When Millie sees herself from another perspective, I think it’s less about what she looks like, but she looks at herself and it’s the first time she’s seeing herself and the power she can have” Newton said. “I think that’s what the movie’s about: seeing who you are and celebrating it. Because that’s your power, who you are and the gifts you were given.”