Have you ever had a feeling of déjà vu where you’re going through the same repeatedly? Now imagine going through your worst day over and over. Let’s amp that up and imagine getting killed…over and over. That’s the basic premise of Happy Death Day. The main character, Tree Gelbam (Jessica Rothe), is forced to relive the same day, getting murdered in different manners, and her only hope to escape this horrific loop is to figure out who her killer is. The result is a slasher movie with a refreshing purpose.
Tree starts out as a typical character you often see in teen-horror films. We’re introduced to her as she wakes up with a massive hangover in a stranger’s dorm room after a wild night partying. It immediately becomes clear she is not the nicest person with the way she treats others and the decisions she makes. At first, it seems like an odd approach to have such an unlikeable heroine in a movie about survival. When her first death comes, you don’t feel any sympathy for the character. That’s part of the brilliance in the story.
Too many times in these types of movies, the killer’s motives are rarely touched on until the end. Viewers will discover there was some incident that caused someone (or something) to decide to simply kill random people in order to up the body count for the screen. Happy Death Day‘s killer is allowed to be a little more focused. The killer here is only after Tree, although there may be some innocent collateral damage along the way. This means we can have several different and creative onscreen deaths, but they are not random or done just for the shock value.
As Tree is forced to relive this horrendous day, it begins to have an affect on her. As she mentions, reliving the same day makes you take a close look at herself. There is an evolution as she realizes she was a really awful person. She treated others like dirt and made decisions that only benefited herself, regardless of how they might affect others. If we’re being honest, women are often portrayed as the helpless victims in horror movies. Tree may start out that way, but after the first few deaths, she begins to grow. She tries to take control of the situation rather than simply scream and cower in a corner.
The movie was directed by Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and several Paranomal Activity films), and the script was written by Scott Lobdell (writer of a bunch of comic books). It’s a fun movie with a nice twist for the genre. There are some typical scares meant to make the audience jump out of their seats, but the movie never feels like it’s trying too hard to achieve those moments. I could see others around me getting sucked into the suspense and tension, and that’s exactly what a movie like this should do. It might seem like having the same character killed over and over could become redundant, but the movie’s pacing and running time are spot on.
I’m not normally a big fan of PG-13 horror movies. They often become a little watered down in order to earn the safer rating. Happy Death Day manages to hit all the marks it needs to in order to deliver an entertaining film for the genre. The idea of reliving the same day isn’t an original thought, but the movie embraces the notion and utilizes it to its fullest potential.
Jessica Rothe’s performance is great as we get to see how she reacts to the events and how she evolves when trying to exit the brutal and deadly loop she’s trapped in. It’s a fantastic feeling to be able to watch a modern day horror movie and not roll my eyes during cheesy or clichéd moments. The movie doesn’t try to be groundbreaking in order to change the genre. It simply embraces it, and the result is a worthy and entertaining slasher film. It’s a great feeling when you walk out of a movie theater with a smile on your face.