If you believe English author and journalist Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plots (there’s probably a more historic precursor to this but Booker is as far as I’m going – for now at least). What that means is that, after thousands of years of story-telling, there isn’t much originality around anymore.
One glance at your local theatre will back this up: since cinemas have reopened in Scotland, I’ve seen the second Quiet Place, the third Conjuring, and the ninth Saw movie. While I enjoyed all three to varying degrees, all of them relied on the prerequisite of prior knowledge of characters and world. Yesterday, I saw Freaky, the latest genre remix from Happy Death Day director Christopher Landon, a movie so fun, so silly, and so gory that I think that the standard definition of originality in art is supremely overrated.
Landon is a genre specialist, a director who consistently looks at speculative tropes like repeating the same day, existence of multiple realities, and now the body-swapping, and says to himself, “how can I make this horror?” On the surface, the answer is simple, give someone an unsettling mask, a knife, and the ability to appear from anywhere and let the blood shed. That would be enough for some good times, but Freaky, like the Happy Death Day duo (trilogy, Landon! Give me the trilogy!) does the simplest thing in the world to make his movies stand out: he doesn’t see his characters as disposable.
Freaky works because, unlike so many slasher movies, it takes its time setting up the life of heroine, Millie (played by Kathryn Newton in a dazzling dual performance), rather than just nihilistically killing a bunch of horny teens for the sake of it. It’s the solidity of Millie’s life that makes the body-swap with the aptly named Blissfield Butcher so brilliant. While it isn’t as intensely psychological, Freaky reminded me of, in my own opinion, the gold standard of the body-swap story: the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season four episodes in which Buffy swaps bodies with dark slayer Faith (an insultingly poor summation of the episode, but if I started talking about these episodes in detail we would be here all day). Body swap movies are all about how it feels to be in someone else’s shoes, and those shoes are filled by Vince Vaughn in one of the best and most genuinely hilarious performances of his career. This is a resurgence that is going under the radar, so make sure you see his work here as well as he sensational performance in Brawl in Cell Block 99.
So, about those plots – Freaky falls into comedy, the quest, voyage and return, rebirth and overcoming the monster, but that doesn’t make it unoriginal. For me, originality is about your own spin, something that can only come from you, and Freaky could only come from the twisted mind of Christopher Landon. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, go ahead and consider supporting us on Ko-Fi!
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via the Guardian)