Happy Death Day
Director: Christopher Landon
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, and Jason Bayle
Remember that movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray? It’s the film where Murray relives the same day over and over again. It’s a simplistic, often goofy, premise that conveniently allowed the comedian the opportunity to do what he does best.
“Happy Death Day” is a new horror film that takes this idea, adds the element of a slasher wearing a creepy mask, and focuses the narrative on the self-referential aspect of other horror and time travel films. While this may not necessarily sound that promising, “Happy Death Day” is a surprisingly fun horror film that feels straight out of the 90’s.
Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in a stranger’s dorm room. Immediately realizing her bad decision she promptly leaves, pretentiously throwing verbal jabs at two college guys on her way out. It doesn’t stop there; Tree is a snob and, before she returns to her sorority house, she abuses numerous people along her path. It’s Tree’s birthday though she doesn’t seem too happy about it. As the day progresses Tree finds herself alone on a walk to a party. A masked assailant confronts her and, while trying to escape, Tree is killed but immediately wakes up to relive the day again.
For a film that relies so heavily on a specific narrative device, a feature that becomes somewhat annoyingly implemented in the film “Groundhog Day”, “Happy Death Day” amusingly utilizes it well. Part of the reason it’s effective is because of the genre it is operated within. The horror genre allows the filmmakers opportunity to exploit one key element here, specifically that the main character must die in order for time to restart. Just like a slasher film, take for instance something like “Friday the 13th”, it’s the continuous gruesome methods of violence that drives these particular subgenre of films. While “Happy Death Day” operates within the boundaries of its PG-13 rating, much of the violence is cut before the visual payoff some horror fans will be looking for, the film composes a quality that is reminiscent of the teenager-in-peril motifs of the 90’s.
And, just like those same 90’s genre films, the narrative is structured to compliment the trick it is trying to execute. This makes for some pretty cringe-worthy moments of dialog and more than a few sloppy plugs for the plot holes. However, it also confidently understands how to use humor in a horror film and keenly plays the genre characteristics against type. The film understands the lengths to which the premise can go, pushing the silly nature of the key idea to its limitations without ever going to far.
This wouldn’t all work so nicely without the convincing performance from Jessica Rothe who takes the character of Tree on a full journey of self-discovery, at the hands of the masked killer who kills her repeatedly into some kind of understanding. Ms. Rothe is believable on numerous levels throughout the film while also having a charismatic quality that works so well here.
“Happy Death Day” does a lot with very little. Even with some of the glaring flaws it’s easy to get caught up in the carefree, appealing quality of this horror film. Having fun in horror doesn’t happen too often these days, which is much of the reason why “Happy Death Day” works.
3.25 out of 5.00