Happy Death Day
A college student must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer's identity.
Groundhog Day. Final Destination. A Christmas Carol.
Three great tastes that taste great together.
Add in a fleeting glimpse of Sixteen Candles and you’ve got Happy Death Day.
Tree (Jessica Rothe) is a bitchy sorority girl – who wakes up in a strange man’s dorm (a dude named Carter – played by Israel Broussard) after a night of binge-drinking and random party make-outs. It’s her birthday, and as the title proclaims – it’s also her death day. When she is killed that night, she wakes up in the same dorm with Carter – seemingly doomed to relive the same day over and over – and to relive her gruesome death at the hands of a baby-masked stalker… every single night… that is, until she can use this same day and what she learns each day – to unmask her killer. And perhaps learn a little bit about herself along the way.
With so many films over the last several years playing on the festival circuits – ones which take our love of the stalk-n-slash genre and turn those cliches on their ears – there seems to be an ‘80s slasher renaissance. Short films like The Babysitter Murders and Girl #2, take us back to that yesteryear with nostalgia and memories – all while offering up a new take on our beloved stalker films. Happy Death Day is a welcome addition to this particular sub-genre.
However, even in toying with the tropes horror freaks know and love, Happy Death Day is still not original. But it takes pieces from the above-mentioned films and mixes them up into a wonderful swirl of rich goodness. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s very self-aware, which allows the audience to forgive the use of similar ideas in the 1992 Ramis film with Bill Murray. And that’s not just in the overall idea, but in several very specific moments (which can’t be discussed, for fear of spoilers). I can say, though, that there is a pseudo Ned Ryerson character in Happy Death Day as well.
While there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about the film as a whole, there is a small revelation which had both me and my husband practically squealing with glee. In the many films of this ilk, I can’t recall this idea ever being employed before. I won’t spell it out (therefore spoiling it), but it has to do with the body’s reaction to living the same day over and over. Smart, inspired and completely original. I love intelligent bits like this!
As Tree, Jessica Rothe is a revelation. When someone discusses an actor having the “it” quality – I’d thrust this actress to the front of the line as an apt example. She’s got perfect comic timing, soulful eyes and the ability to make the audience feel. She’s also a great screamer – and if you’re in a horror flick, you’ve gotta have the pipes, right? I got from her, a young Sharon Stone quality. I’ve said this now and again about up and coming actors – but I will definitely keep an eye out for more work from Rothe.
The supporting cast is all solid – with standout work from Rachel Matthews as sorority leader Danielle. She provides brilliant comic relief whenever she’s on-screen – particularly in a party scene early on. And her final moments in the film perfectly sum up exactly what this character is about.
The film’s funny. It’s got a good heart. And it’s got a journey of the main character’s conscience (and my avid readers of 4 know how much I need a lead character to take a journey of self-discovery).
The dialogue is crisp and allows Rothe to play everything from goofy to terrified to devastated to flirtatious. All of the supporting characters (again – Matthews as Danielle) get to chew the scenery with the dialogue – which, coming from the sorority sisters is wonderfully catty and over-the-top.
It’s got suspense. It’s never overwhelming (this is a PG-13 film), but is just enough to keep in line with the film’s lighter tone. Yes, there is death and terror, but the film is a joyful ride overall. Horror nerds will appreciate the things they’ve already seen and the fun moments which whisk them away to the ‘80s, but there will also be kudos-a-plenty for the quick pace.
A few good “boo” moments can be found, and some inspired death scenes are sprinkled throughout – but like the suspense – it’s all in good fun, never totally dark.
The baby-face mask is certainly memorable, and lends itself to eventual franchise glory. It’s designed by the same dude who made the iconic “Ghost-Face” mask for the Scream films.
It’s always a joy to see such solid continuity and editing in a film like this. Just as the character gets to know exact moments (as she’s seen them over and over and over again), the audience begins to recognize these repetitions as well. And the fact that we never question each incarnation of Tree’s day (after day) – speaks volumes of the film’s production team. I can’t imagine that films like Edge of Tomorrow, Groundhog Day and Happy Death Day are a cinch to keep in order.
There is an unexpected twist – at least it threw me for a loop. But the timing of the film’s Sixteen Candles homage is a perfect way to distract from what is still to come. The best part of this, is that the switcheroo doesn’t completely come out of nowhere. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll be able to look back and see potential clue-ins about how the film got to this point.
With a strong lead character and a great lead performance to match, Happy Death Day is a compact and enjoyable slasher film – with ties to other great films (of multiple genres). The film won’t change the horror game, but it’ll provide a good thrill to last you the day (and day and day and day).
I’m not yet sure if this will make my “best of 2017” list (coming soon), but it’s a super good time.
Happy Death Day is still playing in some theatres. Select VOD releases are scheduled for January 2nd, 2018, with the DVD/Blu-ray release not long after, on January 16th.