Slasher films for the most part follow a strict criteria of guidelines. Scream famously lampooned these guidelines as it reinvented the wheel, before becoming a victim of its own clichés. Happy Death Day offers nothing original – we’ve seen it all countless times – the exception being its presentation. Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) has the worst hangover of her life on the day of September 18th. Her birthday should be a joyous occasion, but instead she finds herself brutally murdered by a mysterious assailant. Game over, right? Not quite.
Tee literally discovers that there’s no tomorrow when she wakes up to relive the day again and again. Stuck in a time loop that resets with her death, she must avoid death and defeat her killer once and for all – lest she might not wake up next time. Can the first girl also be the final girl?
Groundhog Day might not be the original time loop story, but it is the definitive. Harold’s Ramis’s comedy classic influenced a genre and made a huge mark on pop culture. Its impact on Happy Death Day is undeniable and this is something the filmmakers not only acknowledge in the final product, but embrace.
Happy Death Day isn’t even the first time loop slasher, though it sets the bar. Director Christopher B. Landon borrows from multiple genres to craft a highly amusing and downright entertaining film that showcases highlights from slashers and campus comedies. The humour is well placed, while the repetitive routine of Tree’s life hits the right balance of staying true to the gimmick without becoming tiresome for the audience.
There’s a good heart beating throughout as the film becomes the surprisingly feel good slasher of the year. It’s so enjoyable watching Tree rehabilitate her personality with each new chance she’s given as she adheres to the Phil Connors School of self-improvement. Rothe is brilliant in the role, she helps elevate the entire movie to another level and forms a natural chemistry with love interest Carter (Israel Broussard).
There are few scares to be had in the movie, Landon does however provide some unsettling moments and helps create a memorable killer. The murderer’s grotesque baby faced mask was designed by Tony Gardner of Ghostface fame. There is an eeriness to its simplicity and sheer brutality to earlier deaths, which are substituted for the film’s lighter tone around the midway point.
No one makes better horror films than Blumhouse these days. With Happy Death Day, they’ve tried something different, albeit familiar. It’s executed wonderfully and, once again, they’ve cleaned up at the box office, meaning a sequel is highly inevitable.
Although Happy Death Day may be light on scares, it delivers fun by the truckload with laugh out loud moments and a likeable lead that’s easy to invest in. As slashers go, it’ll be hard to beat this year.