Last fall, amidst the hype surrounding It and Halloween production news, Blumhouse delivered a pleasant surprise to horror fans. Released on October 13th, Happy Death Day took its Groundhog Day-infused premise and scared up just shy of $56 million at the box office on a small $4.8 million dollar budget. The film was largely met with praise from critics and fans alike. It was the rare film that took what could have been a one-note premise and turned it into a fun mix of laughs and thrills.
Following a night of heavy drinking, college student Theresa “Tree” Gelbman wakes up in a strange dorm room on her birthday. A sorority girl having an affair with one of her professors, Tree is estranged from her father and would rather just forget it’s her big day. Later that evening, on her way to a sorority party, Tree is brutally murdered by a masked killer. Yet in a bizarre turn of events, Tree somehow wakes up back in that same dorm room and discovers she is doomed to repeat the day’s events, including her death, until she can uncover the identity of her killer.
A Fun Blend of Genres
Based on a screenplay by Scott Lobdell, Happy Death Day is an fun, imaginative blending of genres. The Groundhog Day premise, which the film openly acknowledges in meta-fashion, is infused with what basically amounts to a handful of slasher film tropes.
…the film’s mystery twists and turns en route to a thrilling conclusion.
To some extent, Happy Death Day’s more comedic elements play more consistently. The horror elements are certainly played a little lighter than classic 1980’s slasher films. However, the film’s mystery twists and turns en route to a thrilling conclusion. The experience of watching Happy Death Day is akin to walking through a Halloween haunted house – it may not give you nightmares but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Slickly Produced PG-13 Scares
Horror fans shouldn’t watch Happy Death Day expecting exploitation-style intensity or violence. This is clearly a PG-13 horror films and that’s not a bad thing. Not every horror film needs to be a joyless exercise in agony and torture. Director Christopher Landon crafts several suspenseful and thrilling moments across the film. It’s a tightly paced, well-structured roller coaster of jumps and white-knuckle moments. Some genre fans complain about jump scares, but when done right, as they are in Happy Death Day, it can make for a fun 90 minutes at the movie theatre.
A Career-Making Performance from Jessica Rothe
…Happy Death Day is bolstered by a star-making performance from newcomer, Jessica Rothe.
In addition to the high quality production values, Happy Death Day is bolstered by a star-making performance from newcomer Jessica Rothe. As Tree Gelbman, Rothe takes a character that may have seemed a little superficial on paper and aptly brings her to life. Rothe demonstrates a range in her performance as she convincingly adds layers to a character that is initially unlikeable. Over the course of Happy Death Day, Rothe does the impossible and makes you care for Tree. It’s also refreshing to see Happy Death Day join other films like Hush and You’re Next, and give horror fans an intelligent and strong female protagonist.
Like Its Time Loop You’ll Want to Watch Happy Death Day Again
With the box office success of Happy Death Day, a sequel was all but guaranteed. Now fans of the film can indeed rejoice as a sequel began production earlier this month. Regardless of what this sequel delivers, Happy Death Day marked another winning effort from Blumhouse with its fun blending of genres and breakout performance from Rothe. It stands up to multiple viewings and is certain to be one of those horror films that makes fans’ October viewing schedule.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-