It’s October, the spookiest time of year, and thus we all go looking for a good scare from our movies, old and new. As such, Hollywood and other movie producing hubs churn out subpar shockfests to satisfy those in search of that feeling of fear. I mean, we saw it with series like the Saw Franchise and Paranormal Activity when there would be a new one every year until it became too tired for even the hardest core horror nut to enjoy. However, even outside of established series, Hollywood milks certain aspects of horror all too much, leaving what could be at times some of the most technically creative and critically interesting genres feeling cliched and hackneyed. Why do I raise these points? Well, because I feel it is important to address the slightly disposable nature of most horror films released around Halloween and the attitude I have towards them before I talk about a film that for all intensive purposes looks just awful. That film is Happy Death Day.
Theresa “Tree” Gelbman wakes up in a dorm room with a tremendous hangover. She quickly leaves and goes back to her sorority house, being entirely condescending to those around her. However, it’s her birthday and as she is on the way to a surprise party she is murdered by a killer wearing a mask. She then wakes up in a dorm room with a tremendous hangover and finds that she is stuck living the day she dies over and over again.
Happy Death Day is a film that has been described as a cross between Groundhog Day and Scream and I think that the comparison is apt; this is not a straight horror flick but a sort of horror commentary, something that takes a look at American Campus life as well as the horror genre. It is definitely not a scare fest, but that doesn’t make it a worthless film as there were some really great moments of background everyday horror that took place on the college campus that the film calls on. This doesn’t mean that it is a dower examination of rape culture and misogyny prevalent in both the horror genre and campus life either; it is a comedy that is prepared to mock itself and other horror films.
We start out with a character who is typical for a slasher victim. A self-serving self-centred amoral girl who the audience usually long to be killed in intricate and gruesome ways to fulfil some hidden and misplaced bloodlust. However, over the countless deaths Tree suffers she changes and grows as a character into something that the audience routes for, they want to see her survive and they also want to see her become a better person. As such it gets the audience to confront their feelings before and their attitude to horror film characters.
Happy Death Day does have some problems. Firstly, and most obviously for a horror film, it is not scary, like at all. Yes, there are some jump scares but no meaningful moments of dread and terror; the body count doesn’t seem to exceed the number of fingers on one hand unless you count each individual time Tree dies. However, scares are not the film’s only goal, it is a comedy and a critique rather than a straight horror film and in that regard, it succeeds very well. The story itself is a little weak, the reveal of the killer was a little odd though I suppose it fitted regarding tone and theme rather than narratively. I will say that the film plays this off in a similarly humorous way, as most things, like the constant deaths of our main character, are in a very odd echo to the depressing amount of suicides that Bill Murray commits in Groundhog Day.
This issue is smoothed over by our lead played by Jessica Rothe, who was in La La Land and The Tribe. She does a standout job in carrying the film and making Tree’s arch from bratty sorority sister to a decent human being believable and weighty. She is written in broad strokes, as is every other character, but there is enough of a character there to latch onto. The drip feeding of Tree’s backstory keeps audiences attached to Tree long enough to form a bond with her.
Overall, Happy Death Day is a fun little flick that might make a good Halloween date movie if so inclined. It is light, fun and not afraid to make fun of itself, though at the centre of it are some important issues that might need more mainstream attention. Happy Death Day isn’t going to change the world, its not going to be remembered as a ground-breaking horror film, but it is a pretty solid popcorn flick that most people can enjoy.
You can watch Happy Death Day in cinemas now