As anyone who remembers the late ‘80s can tell you, the body-swapping premise is typically played for PG-13 laughs. This month, however, the prolific Blumhouse mines the classic concept for more twisted purposes, magically transporting the mind of a tormented cheerleader into the bulky six-foot-two frame of Vince Vaughn, with his serial killer character, The Blissful Butcher, heading the other way.
Yet the aptly-named Freaky isn’t the first slasher movie to incorporate such a logic-defying move. Back in 2011, music video director Joseph Kahn plowed millions of his own dollars into Detention, a senses-assaulting horror comedy which sees relatively level-headed teenage girl Ione (Spencer Locke) switch souls with her unscrupulous mom Sloan (Erica Shaffer) to win a dance-off.
As with everything in Kahn’s audacious labor of love, the explanation is practically unfathomable. We only learn that the swap has even taken place two-thirds into the 90-minute movie, by which point its class of high school cliches has just discovered that an apocalypse is only ten minutes away — and only the mother/daughter duo can save the day.
This plot twist barely makes sense, but here’s an attempted synopsis: In a newly-opened alternate universe, the teen version of current school principal Verge (Dane Cook) has set a world-destroying bomb to detonate after Sloan rejected his promposal. The gang he’s detentioned in a The Breakfast Club-style homage must therefore use a time-traveling stuffed bear mascot to change her mind: only now, Sloan is actually Ione. Yes, as well as switching bodies, the pair also traversed timelines, with the modern-day Ione inhabiting the body of the 1992 Sloan and vice versa.
Kahn hints at this twist throughout the exhausting first hour of super-meta snark, with bewildering narrative turns and pop culture references rattled off in the manner of a walking, coked-up IMDb come to life (Ione chooses C&C Music Factory for her cheerleading routine, while she amusingly believes “Eat My Shorts” is the ultimate putdown).
Although integral to the movie’s baffling denouement, the body swap is just one of many ludicrous plot points thrown into the mix. Halfway through a football game, a jock reveals himself to be an acid-spewing, winged creature akin to Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. Foreshadowed by a heated school debate about veganism, the finale sees Canadian student Gord reveal live on TV he’s an extra-terrestrial plant hellbent on punishing Earthlings for eating their greens. (And we’ve not even mentioned all the murders yet.)
Yes, believe it or not, Detention is billed first and foremost as a slasher movie. In fairness, the opening sequence – where a self-proclaimed B.I.T.C.H. (Beauty, Intelligence, Talent, Charisma, Hoobastank) wishes death on her mom for making a calorific breakfast, near-decapitates a kitten and smugly reveals “a guide to not being a total reject” before being thrown out of her bedroom window by a masked killer – suggests we’re in for a fun Generation Z-does-Scream ride.
But whereas Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson balanced all the in-jokes and self-awareness with a tight, coherent plot and characters that behaved like human beings, Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo simply hurl a million random things at the wall in the hope that something sticks. Despite the best efforts of a game cast that includes a pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson, not much does.
There are a few strong visual gags (the jock’s severed hand landing on the barbecue grill just as Shanley Caswell’s final girl Riley tucks into a burger). The detention room montage chronicling the changing fashion and musical tastes from the present day to the early ‘90s is also cleverly done.
Yet Kahn is so determined to show off every bit of pop culture he’s ever consumed that the odd, good zinger (“Slasher-film heroines live in McMansions. You live in a bungalow”) instantly gets drowned out by a relentless wave of self-satisfied, headache-inducing dialog. The video director may fancy himself as the MTV Tarantino, but he’s more like Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg cranked up to 11.
Detention might have worked if it calmed things down and stayed in just one lane. Inspired by the film-within-a-film, the heavily bandaged face and blood-stained prom gown of Cinderhella (the movie's unfortunately named serial killer) makes for a surprisingly effective villain. The gruesome-looking copycat – whose real identity fits the "nerd who never gets the girl" trope – deserves to take center stage, but there’s so much chaos elsewhere, he almost feels like an afterthought.
Still, you have to admire Kahn bringing his bizarre vision to life with so few compromises — particularly with his own hard-earned cash. Perhaps nine years further into the social media age, it would have landed better with viewers more attuned to being bombarded with information at a million miles per hour. But if you still prefer your slashers with a bit of breathing space, then you’ll soon wish you could travel back in time to before you pressed play.