You know those movies that you wish you had thought to write? Christopher B. Landon’s HAPPY DEATH DAY is one of them. With a familiar, yet imaginative script from Scott Lobdell, this is a really fun take on a slasher film. And to be honest, it’s really surprising that no one has thought to write this movie before. GROUNDHOG DAY meets SCREAM? I am so there. IT got the ball(oon) rolling last month and HAPPY DEATH DAY keeps us on a steady course in the weeks leading up to Halloween… and did I mention it’s releasing on Friday the 13th too??
After a night of heavy drinking, college student Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in Carter’s (Israel Broussard) dorm room. Although she doesn’t really know Carter, it’s her birthday and she is eager to get the heck out of there. As Tree runs out the door to begin her walk of shame back to the sorority house, she encounters a series of other coeds that you will come to know really well by the end of the movie (and who may even make it onto your suspect list). A guy checks her out; an activist asks her to sign an environmental petition, a car alarm goes off, a frat pledge drunkenly passes out, etc…
From there, we arrive back at Tree’s ritzy sorority house, where we really start to see the kind of person she is and who she surrounds herself with; spoiler alert: it’s not a good look. The Regina George of the sorority, Danielle (Rachel Matthews), is a monster, and Tree’s roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), while nice, seems a bit judgy. But I really can’t blame Lori, especially since Tree spurns her thoughtful birthday cupcake offering. Tree continues through her day, meeting up with her teacher-turned-lover (Charles Aitken), having lunch with her sorority sisters, and finally getting dolled up to attend a late-night frat party. But on her way to the house, Tree walks through a deserted tunnel with a creepy music box standing between her and the exit. Cue a baby-faced (literally) killer with a knife. Tree tries to escape, but is finally chased down and killed. At that point, she wakes up back in Carter’s room with the day starting all over again. She soon realizes she has the ability to relive the day until she finds out who’s trying to kill her.
Jessica Rothe, who got her big break playing Emma Stone’s roommate in LA LA LAND, plays her character to a tree…errrr T, making the most out of every second she’s on screen… which is literally every second. In fact, one of my favorite elements of this film is our heroine has a well-defined character arc. Instead of being your typical (likable) heroine, kicking baddie ass and taking names, Tree starts her journey as a total b-tch. So much so, it would probably be easier to list the people NOT trying to kill her than who are, which makes the suspect list even more difficult to whittle down. Don’t get me wrong, I love characters like Buffy, Imperator Furiosa, and Sidney F-ing Prescott who have agency and you root for from the first second they’re on-screen. But Tree’s deplorable attitude and friend circle is an interesting (and welcomed) change from the typical scream queen. Speaking of scream queens, I think this change of archetype can be directly linked to the success of Emma Roberts’ Chanel Oberlin from Fox’s SCREAM QUEENS, who I could totally see facing off against the “Babyface” killer? Is that what we are calling him/her?
Much like THE FINAL GIRLS, and other genre-bending horror films, audiences will especially find entertainment in HAPPY DEATH DAY’s cast of up-and-comers and its fun screenplay. I guarantee you will be surprised by the film’s humor and genuine creepiness (I mean come on! Look at that mask)! Although I was super busy at my day job this week and not particularly in the mood to write a review, I wanted to support this film and publicly cross my fingers that it doesn’t get lost in the weekend box office.
My Review: B