‘Freaky’ slashes its way into the body-swap genre

Freaky movie poster. Photo courtesy Universal Studios

Universal Studios hosted a roundtable discussion with 10 college journalists on Monday to ask questions to the stars of their new movie, “Freaky.” NBC Universal employee Ami Murby reached out to college newsrooms a week prior to the interview to recruit inquisitive students interested in the movie.

“Freaky” is an upcoming comedy slasher film that combines “Freaky Friday” and “Friday the 13th” in an entertaining spin to the body-swap movie genre. Kathryn Newton stars as Millie Kessler, a high school student who becomes the newest target for an infamous serial killer, the Blissfield butcher, played by Vince Vaughn. Christopher Landon, the director of “Freaky,” recently directed another genius horror-comedy, “Happy Death Day” in 2017 and its sequel in 2019.

Newton and Vaughn, the protagonists of “Freaky,” answered questions provided by the students in a nearly 30-minute interview.

How did playing within the concept of gender allow you to learn about the different strengths of any identity?

“Millie is the same through-and-through,” Newton said. “When she sees herself from another perspective, it’s less about what she looks like, but it’s the first time she sees herself and the power that she has. I think a lot of the role was about just learning about yourself.”

Body swap movies, such as “Little,” “Freaky Friday” or “13 Going on 30,” haven’t touched the genre of horror, so Universal Studios’ “Freaky” did a brilliant job at being a stand-out film. The movie’s commentary filled with dark humor, a surprising amount of gore and a cheesy high school narrative, easily makes the movie a must-see.

“It’s interesting that the movie sets up Millie going through difficult situations with people, so when the serial killer is in her body, you’re kind of rooting for her,” Vaughn said.

(from left) The Butcher (Vince Vaughn) and Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) in Freaky, co-written and directed by Christopher Landon.

Since Millie’s character is a high school student and the butcher is a middle-aged man, were there any challenges while trying to play characters of completely different generations?

“There were scenes on set when the butcher [in Millie’s body] was taking selfies with teenagers, and I wanted to make sure he looked like he didn’t understand he was being photographed,” Newton said.

Newton is 23 years old, and Vaughn is 50.

“As a performer, you understand the aspects of people, and Millie’s character had a lot of great qualities that she never owned,” Vaughn said. “The butcher was easier to play, since he lacked any empathy, but I’m not sure if he was tech savvy.”

How have your roles in “Freaky” differed from your previous horror roles in “Paranormal Activity” [Newton] and “Psycho” [Vaughn]?

“In ‘Paranormal Activity 4,’ I learned how to tell a story with my eyes,” Newton said. “The audience is always ahead of the victim or killer and knows what’s next, so most of the time, the audience had the same point-of-view as the butcher in ‘Freaky.’”

Newton was the main protagonist of the 2012 movie “Paranormal Activity 4,” and she won a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film for Leading Actress. Vaughn, who is known as one of Hollywood’s biggest comedy actors, starred in the 1998 remake of “Psycho.”

“During the remake, we would often find the scenes ourselves as we filmed or matched what the other actors did,” Vaughn said. “With Newton, we built the character together organically, and it was a lot of fun to improvise.”

(from right) Co-writer/director Christopher Landon, Katie Finneran and Kathryn Newton with crew members on the set of Freaky.

The director, Christopher Landon, mentions that he reread “Jennifers Body” while writing “Freaky.” How does Kathryn see Millie’s character fitting in with other iconic women in slasher horror films?

“‘Jennifers Body’ is one of my favorite horror movies,” Newton said. “I realized the similarities between Needy and Millie, and Jennifer is like the butcher in a way.”

Landon’s new film is adding to the slasher genre’s go-to premiere with its release today on Friday the 13th. Both Newton and Vaughn portray their characters in Universal Studios’ “Freaky,” which is available in theaters only. You can find tickets here.