Review: Happy Death Day
Happy Death Day is just the shot in the arm that the slasher genre has needed for a while now. Leave it to Blumhouse to pump a fledgling genre full of life again with a smart premise and irreverent tone, because despite what the deadly serious trailers would have you believe, Happy Death Day is a comedy. I was having just as much fun during the suspenseful bits as I was laughing at the silly jokes, admiring the great comedic performances, and solving the surprisingly engaging mystery.
Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday in a stranger's dorm with a massive hangover and little memory of the night before. She hurriedly goes back to her sorority where her sisters fight with her before giving her a cupcake and telling her about a special party that night. Tree finishes up her day and heads to the party, but before she can get there she is murdered by a figure in black wearing the mask of the Bayfield University Baby mascot. She immediately wakes up back in the dorm, and she soon realizes she is reliving the same day over and over only to end up murdered. Every time she dies she gets a bit weaker, so she is determined to figure out who is killing her before it's too late.
So yes, it's Groundhog Day. As was shown with Edge of Tomorrow and is proven here, that premise can still feel fresh, perhaps due to the new genre, which hasn't been played out yet. Each new death not only brings on a fun kill sequence but a new piece of the puzzle. Your own mental checklist of the people you've seen is kept as Tree's investigations goes along. Could it be the one night stand? The sorority full of women who seem to despise her? One of her multiple lovers? Maybe it's just one of the countless number of strangers she's flippant towards throughout the day. Each time one is checked off your list the mystery becomes only more and more intriguing.
Christopher Landon previously wrote and directed The Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, a goofy zombie movie who's heart and humor impressed even if the scares could have used some work. Luckily, Happy Death Day nails all three areas. The jokes are a touch too crass at times, but most of the time they work wonders to set you at ease just before the next big jump scare gets ya. That has less to do with the admittedly solid writing than it does Jessica Rothe's wonderful performance. She dynamically plays all cliches of the slasher genre, one character that works as being the first one offed, the comic relief, and the final girl. She has more than it takes to deliver the goofy jokes and sell the physical slapstick while also being a compelling lead with a shockingly good love story.
I didn't even realize how much I needed a good slasher until I was watching this. The audience was as interactive as I've ever experienced, howling at the many hilarious lines as enthusiastically as they were cheering on Tree as she finally got the upper hand and started hitting back at the Bayfield Baby. For the first time in years, I didn't mind when audience members started talking. They were sharing their theories, repeating their favorite lines, laughing off the jump scares, and, of course, yelling at the characters to get it together and just turn around because oh god the killer's right there.
Horror has become a dreadfully serious affair, and we need these movies to suck us in and make us forget our problems. Sometimes we just need to gleefully watch a bunch of dumb college students get killed.
DISCLOSURE: After the screening, Marcus was gifted with a Happy Death Day fidget spinner and flashlight.