Last fall, amidst the hype surrounding It and Halloween production news, Blumhouse delivered a pleasant surprise to horror fans. Released last October, Happy Death Day took its Groundhog Day-infused premise and scared up just shy of $56 million. Consistent with Blumhouse’s horror formula, Happy Death Day was made for a paltry $4.8 million dollars. Critics largely praised the innovative little slasher. 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 heavy drinking binge, college student Theresa “Tree” Gelbman wakes up in a strange dorm room. Tree has a lot going on in her life. She’s in a sorority girl, having an affair with a professors and estranged from her father. To top things off, it’s Tree’s birthday. Later that evening, on her way to a sorority party, a baby-masked killer brutally murders Tree. Yet in a strange twist, Tree wakes up back in that same dorm room on the same day. Tree quickly discovers that 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, newcomer Jessica Rothe bolsters Happy Death Day with a star-making performance. 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 how the sequel turns out, Happy Death Day marked another winning effort from Blumhouse. It’s a fun blending of genres with Rothe delivering a breakout performance. Most importantly, Happy Death Day stands up to multiple viewings. This little slasher is certain to be one of those horror films that makes fans’ Halloween viewing schedule year after year.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-