Happy Death Day Directed by Christopher Landon
Written by Scott Lobdell
Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton, Rob Mello Blumhouse Productions
Rated R | 96 Minutes
Release Date: October 13, 2017
If you’ve watched the trailer for Happy Death Day, then you know exactly what you are walking into. The writer and director make no effort to hide their influences, to the point of literally name-dropping Groundhog Day and Bill Murray IN the movie. One character’s last name is even credited as “Spengler” (Harold Ramis was Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters). That said, if you’re gonna walk the line between parody and homage, you better be careful and to their credit, writer Scott Lobdell and director Christopher Landon do a pretty great job. In order for this to work, like Groundhog Day, the lead character and actor playing them has to be convincing. While I’m not comparing Happy Death Day‘s Jessica Rothe to Bill Murray, she does do one hell of a job here and the results are a perfect little 95-minute meta-slasher film right in time for Halloween.
Tree… yes, that’s her name, is the stereotypical sorority bitch. And you will absolutely spend the first third of this movie hating her and her insulated, stuck-up, and superficial college world. But that’s kinda the point. She wakes up in a dorm room next to some non-Sigma-guy and thus, “Ew!” She’s rude and abrasive to nearly everyone, including her dad, whose birthday calls she ignores. Pretty much the only person who gets her attention for the positive is her science professor, who she’s getting “special” tutoring from. She takes the typical horror movie walk to a party (her surprise party) and is attacked and murdered by a killer wearing the university’s awful baby mascot’s mask. The mascot is awful, but the mask itself is perfect for this type of slasher; more in line with the Scream knockoff series of mid-90s/early 2000s films, than the 80s ones that inspired them.
We then go through the Groundhog Day stages. Deja Vu, denial, complete surrender, and finally acceptance that in order to see tomorrow she must solve her own murder. Helping her is Carter (Israel Broussard), the dorm guy, who is totally channeling the Jon Cryer character from John Hughes movies, only more appealing as a leading man. All the credit in the world goes to Jessica Rothe here. She plays every stage of the Groundhog Day curse really well. She’s convincing as a sorority bitch and in another horror movie would make a perfect first kill. She’s equally effective playing desperate, physically and emotionally drained, borderline psychotic, and confident final girl. There is also an emotional subplot involving her parents and birthday that in another film would feel totally out of place, but fits and offers a really nice aside here.
The film’s ability to kill her repeatedly leads to some creative and outright funny moments. The theater we were in was full of teenagers, and they played their role perfectly. They jumped and shrieked on the jump scares, and were audibly guessing who the killer was. While this usually annoys me, here it proved the movie was effective with its target audience, and you have to respect that. My 13-year-old son kept offering his opinions on who the killer was mid-movie.
I could complain and nitpick Happy Death Day, but there’s no point. I found myself really starting to like this film around the midway point, and by the end credits I was confident it would feature prominently in my top 10 horror movies in this, a GREAT year for horror. Here’s a Halloween-time masked killer/slasher movie with a twist not seen before in the genre. I loved the little things, too. Carter has a John Carpenter’s They Live poster in his dorm. They even have the Universal Pictures logo restart three times in a preview of the film’s gag. Landon wrote the 2007 thriller Disturbia, a surprisingly effective modern take on Hitchcock’s Rear Window. He obviously knows how to translate older material for modern audiences and Scott Lobdell’s script is witty and self-aware. For those keeping track, yes this is another solid horror hit from Blumhouse and producer Jason Blum.
I really enjoyed Happy Death Day. It has a great lead character, a fun premise, and is instantly rewatchable. Well worth your time and money this Halloween season.