Following the success of his previous films “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” and the two “Happy Death Day” films, writer/director Christopher Landon was tasked with creating another slick, high-concept genre effort for Blumhouse Studios. Applying a horror-based spin on the Disney Channel-esque body-swapping film “Freaky Friday,” his resulting film “Freaky” carries the same mainstream-flavoured genre goodness that he utilized in the past with an added touch of female empowerment that makes for one of the most engaging and enjoyable horror features of the past few years.

Trying to navigate through high school, student Millie (Kathryn Newton) and her friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor” and Josh (Misha Osherovitch) decide to put their thoughts behind them and attend the school’s upcoming football game held at the school. Brushing aside rumours of a serial killer rampaging through the community, she stays behind to take a ride home when she encounters The Butcher (Vince Vaughn), the serial killer slashing through the student body and anyone else in his way. During the encounter, a mystical curse is employed that soon finds the pair switching bodies with The Butcher in Millie’s body now free to continue his rampage against the faculty and students unsuspectingly while Mille in The Butcher’s body is now public #1 following the encounter. Forcing herself to rely on her sceptical friends for help, she sets out to convince her friends of the switch to stop the killer from killing her classmates.

This was a far better effort than it should’ve been. Among its better features is the strikingly fun and engaging setup that comes out here. The idea of the killers’ history and urban legend in the town serves as an impressive enough entrance point to get to the fateful swap which occurs rather nicely through the incantations associated with the dagger. There’s a lot of fun associated with how they all come to terms with everything, from her glee at discovering being a teenage girl to his discomfort being a male and trying to convince her friends who he really is which leads to some genuinely hysterical comedy.

This is all explored with “Freaky’s” gleefully fun and rousing kill scenes. From the straightforward stalking and chasing found in the opening mansion attack to the ambushes towards the students and faculty at the school as they’re unaware of her true identity, it has plenty to like about it. Like the idea of the friends becoming aware of the swap and trying to help out with getting everything under control under the bizarre circumstances while trying to ensure everyone is aware and trying to stop the killers’ rampage, there’s a nice bit of action and suspense involving getting into the finale.

As well, there’s also a lot to like with the theme of female empowerment through unexpected means. As Millie initially starts off as a shy and timid teenager and becomes a brash and seductive one while taken over by The Butcher, the fact that this causes her to become more open and forthright with her crush Booker while in the serial killer’s body is what brings them together. This whole aspect in the final half comes off rather well as the fight to stop the rampage brings Millie and Booker together by realizing their true feelings for each other which allows Millie to also work on her own self-confidence later on. All of these aspects are brought together to become a massively entertaining and watchable feature.

“Freaky” doesn’t have much wrong with it and is really only in one area of the film. This is the finale, which seems to be entirely based around the slasher setup of the killer never being dead and returning for a final scene at the end. Frankly, it could’ve cut off everything at the crime scene and removed the family confronting him in the house which is clichéd, adds nothing to the story overall, and feels like an absolutely afterthought with the lack of motivation and absence of tension it demonstrates. This is really all that’s really wrong with the film though.

A genuinely enjoyable and fun mainstream genre effort that has so much going for it that the lone detrimental aspect isn’t even that bad, there’s so much to like here which holds this up as one of the finest entries in the genre for the year. All fans of the studio’s past outbreak, mainstream genre fare, or anything in a similar vein as well as those intrigued by this one should give it a look while only viewers who aren’t into the style might want to heed caution.

So, in thinking long and hard about the subject, it’s really difficult to pinpoint why I like the horror genre. I was steered away from the grisly images of mutilation, torture, dismemberment, and carnage and the barbaric themes of possession, murder, and death by my parents for years but instead of rebelling it seemed more like I should in that it appeared they were right. I couldn’t and shouldn’t be exposed to such terrible things at a young age and I never thought much about proving them wrong to watch these kinds of films until I decided to look into why I was forsaking these films on what seemed like a flimsy argument when I was exposed to graphic content elsewhere already without any emotional or mental harm.

Upon diving into the genre wholeheartedly, I discovered a vast array of films that were much more than just what my parents had told me they were about. There was a wide range of material in here, from the gory and graphic over-the-top elements that I was warned about to more cerebral, psychological efforts and even family-friendly affairs that were so mild and unassuming they could be screened at a family dinner party. On top of that, there are numerous styles and types found in the genre, from the smallest of indie films done with the help of friends and family to the largest multi-million-dollar blockbusters designed for mass appeal audiences which is the case here with these vastly different films from one of the largest studios currently, as both films come from Blumhouse Studios. First, we’ll take a look at their 2018 film Truth or Dare and then 2020’s Freaky.

Containing one of the most overused titles in the genre with multiple films taking on the titular name, “Truth or Dare” has been given to a series of beloved indie films directed by cult filmmaker Tim Ritter, a genre thriller from the UK involving a group of friends who gather at a remote house to partake in a reunion only to be forced to play a deadly version of the titular game, a grindhouse-inspired feature directed by actress Jessica Cameron that again portrayed a psycho forcing the game upon an unsuspecting group of people in his favorite group of internet influencers, and finally a made-for-TV supernatural effort that involved a group of friends stalked by a supernatural spirit. On top of all these films, one more film came out carrying the title in this disastrous effort from Blumhouse Studios.

Heading to Mexico for spring break, a group of friends Olivia Barron (Lucy Hale), Lucas Moreno (Tyler Posey), Markie Cameron (Violett Beane), Brad Chang (Hayden Szeto), Penelope Amari (Sophia Ali), and Tyson Curran (Nolan Gerard Funk) are coerced into playing a demented game of truth-or-dare by local guide Carter (Landon Liboiron) which they start to play but soon laugh off as just a joke. Upon arriving back at college, they are afflicted by a series of supernatural attacks that are based around the titular game. After learning that they must now partake in the game or die as their friends did, it causes them to try to understanding the rules of the game before it kills them one by one.

This one was an incredibly bland and dull genre effort. Among the biggest issues is a general and gross misunderstanding of how the game is played, where the invocation to invite the evil force into their lives is completely missing. The general assumption of inviting evil into your lives is never brought up but rather given a rather banal and underwhelming exercise that amounts to being inside the church grounds as a means of initiating the next phase of the game. This all comes off without any context or reasoning as if this one was sold mainly on the idea of a game being passed around without much thought. The overwhelming feeling here, instead, is one of a complete misunderstanding of how the game goes about.

On top of that misguided behaviour, the film’s idea of playing the game results in nothing more than typical teen melodrama and unappealing secrets. It’s not really a shock that this one devolves into affairs, clandestine hook-ups, and long-held secrets and crushes that are usually featured in such efforts, as that tends to be the main focus of what the game is seeking to exploit. None of these features are interesting or enjoyable when it’s the same old formula recycled again and again in these situations, and it’s all the same nonsensical melodrama that erupts from these challenges that don’t even make anyone in the group that appealing anyway, resulting in a wholly unengaging and troublesome effort.

Finally, the film is entirely unscary when it focuses on the exploits of the demon going through the cast. The idea of signaling the possession as exactly what’s described in the film as a lame filter found on a social media video completely reduces the fear of the demon who’s chasing after them when what’s supposed to signal his taking over random strangers to denote the next stage of their game. There’s no suspense at all from the random appearances as the telegraphed camera movements and musical stings carry all the surprise away. The CGI used to change their faces is atrocious and highly suspect, making it look even worse with the underwhelming secrets that favor melodramatic contrivance over scares and completely banal way of playing the game, making for the films’ problematic issues.

There are a few worthwhile aspects to this one which is pretty much the scenes of them going through their paces in the context of the games’ truth or dare segments. With the first few instances of the group succumbing to accidents giving this a solid grounding to the power of the game at first, the later scenes showing them having to harm themselves or go through painful, dangerous stunts in order to stay alive makes for a somewhat enjoyable time here. The best is a genuinely suspenseful sequence where a participant must scale the ledge of a house with precarious items just below providing potentially grisly landing spots and a fine finale that makes for an energetic time here, but that’s really all that really works here with some really misguided approaches.

Filled with a game that completely misses the mark on what it’s supposed to be about, a lack of scares, and a few genuinely interesting elements present, there’s not a whole lot to get out of this one. Really give this a shot if you’re a fan of tween or inoffensive mainstream genre efforts, but hardcore underground genre fans, older genre watchers, or those turned off by the flaws should heed caution or even outright avoid.