Happy Death Day
Happy Death Day (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★
Fast-forward to the 2030s or 2040s when there is intense nostalgia for horror movies of the 2010s. “Happy Death Day,” written by Scott Lobdell and directed by Christopher Landon, is likely to be included on that list because it is clever, funny, and occasionally suspenseful. Although it lacks the level of gore that pictures with strong cult following tend to have, the neat little twists and turns as well as affectionate nudges to the slasher sub-genre make up for it. As an avid horror movie fan, it is not often that I find myself guessing incorrectly in terms of how the story is going to be resolved.
Here is a picture that takes cues from Harold Ramis’ classic comedy “Groundhog Day” and spins it in such a way that we think we know where it is going exactly because the viewer has likely seen that film. It dares enough to introduce a rather unlikable heroine named Tree (Jessica Rothe), a sorority girl who wakes up in Carter’s dorm room (Israel Broussard) every time she is murdered, in a genre where the protagonist must almost always be endearing right away so that the audience roots for her when she inevitably faces the masked killer. And because it uses “Groundhog Day” as inspiration, she must realize eventually that she is not a good person. While this piece is expected, the material takes it a bit further.
The film is executed with great energy and so the repetitive nature of each day is never exhausting. In fact, we pay attention a little bit more after each reset because we wish to gather clues in order to try to discover the killer’s identity. There is no quick and pointless editing, random shaking of the camera, and eye-rolling “Hello? Who’s there?” moments. Instead, it takes what works from solid horror pictures—such as the use of silence and when to break it, clever background imagery like posters or stickers, and using violence to provide catharsis rather than showing violence in order to simply take up minutes. It is a concise piece of work with a brain behind it.
Although not exactly a satire, it touches upon the idea of skewering college life in the universe of a horror movie. It might have become an instant classic had the screenplay been shaped further in order to expand upon and deeply explore this element—but perhaps such an idea could be utilized if a sequel were to happen. As is, however, it is solid popcorn entertainment, a breezy journey to the finish line.
Rothe does not have the look of a typical scream queen, but I enjoyed her performance. I liked that she is not afraid to look ugly—and I don’t mean simply being willing to not wear makeup or having mascara running down her face. She employs extreme facial expressions at times and there is something lovable and realistic about that. Further, she shares great chemistry with her co-star, Broussard, and the together they light up the room. At one point I wondered that had the movie been a romantic comedy set in a college setting where a sorority girl realizes later on that the person she thought was a loser is a winner after all, I would have loved to have seen that work, too.