Happy Death Day (2017)
Review by Thad Timothy; writer, Cult Classic Horror
Review Rating: 4 out of 5
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rob Mello Directed by Christopher Landon
Written by Scott Lobdell
About the Film
By now we are more than familiar with the “Groundhog Day” model, a story of someone who mysteriously lives the same day over and over again until they achieve their great purpose. 2017’s Happy Death Day fully embraces that model but rather than retread on its predecessors, it offers a fresh approach to the all-too-familiar scenario. With Jason Blum behind the production wheel, Happy Death Day proved to be another genre hit for Blumhouse Productions raking in $26,500,000 its opening weekend and generating a world-wide gross of $56,300,000 against an estimated budget of $4,800,000. Naturally, there are already talks of a sequel. Lead actress, Jessica Rothe, was nominated for a Fright Meter Award in the category of ‘best actress in a leading role’ but lost to Carla Cugino for Gerald’s Game.
Happy Death Day centers around a troubled college sorority student, named Tree (Jessica Rothe), who is forced to continuously relive the day of her murder, on her birthday, in a loop that will end only when she reveals her killers identity and prevents her murder from taking place. The film opens in a dorm room where our protagonist, Tree, has just awakened to find herself hungover in a stranger’s bed. With no recollection of the night prior, Tree assumes she had a drunken one-night-stand with Carter (Israel Broussard), the polite young man who is speaking to her from across the room. It’s apparent within seconds however, that the seemingly kind-hearted Carter isn’t the type to take advantage of a drunken sorority girl and will eventually become Tree’s love interest. As Tree makes her way down the “walk of shame” back to her sorority house we are introduced to a series of events, and characters, which we will encounter many times as Tree repeats the day. As the events unfold we quickly realize that Tree is not a very nice person and has crossed nearly every one of her acquaintances. This makes the list of murder suspects quite lengthy and difficult to narrow down. As she endures each death, Tree begins to eliminate suspects and unravel the clues that lead to her killer’s identity and ultimately her murder. Along the way she realizes the despicable person she has become and begins to right her wrongs while rediscovering her true self. But with every death comes significant damage to her physical health thus indicating that time is running out. Will she identify her killer and prevent her murder or will the next death be her last?
My Review (without spoilers)
I remember being in a dark movie theatre when I first saw the trailer for “Happy Death Day.” Despite it being a Blumhouse film I remember thinking here’s another PG-13 teeny bopper movie using the overplayed “groundhog day” formula. As it turns out, I was right...BUT…I am not ashamed to say that I was also wrong. While Happy Death Day was in fact all of those things, its clever script and likeable characters made it a bit more. Although gore hounds may be disappointed, as the deaths are very PG-13, there is enough suspense, mystery, and frightening imagery to please genre fans despite its teenage appeal and I wouldn’t be surprised to see trick-r-treaters donning the mask from this film next Halloween. It’s always impressive when a film that repeats itself, whether it be using the groundhog day effect or multiple perspective formula, can hold your interest or keep you guessing - Happy Death Day does both. The film keeps a steady pace by incorporating additional elements into each new day which as a result keeps the repetition from becoming stagnant and well, repetitive. In addition to good storytelling, a huge strength of Happy Death Day is its lead character. Actress Jessica Rothe, who is in every scene of the film, gives her all to this physical, demanding performance. The character of Tree develops more with each repeating day and experiences nearly every emotion imaginable throughout the course of the film. Like the story demands of its character, the film demands more and more of its leading lady as it progresses and Rothe delivers the goods in full. She is definitely someone to watch for in the near future. Above all, and much to my surprise, Happy Death Day is a fun ride that offers horror, suspense, teen college comedy, and mystery in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously but at the same time takes itself very seriously. The film has already been referred to as the “feel-good horror film” of the year which sums it up quite nicely. I give it 4 out of 5 cupcakes.
Don’t let the PG-13 rating scare you away, Happy Death Day is PG-13 horror done right. It’s a great choice for date night as well.
Additional Trivia (spoilers)
- The babyface mask worn by the killer was designed by Tony Gardner who also designed the iconic “Ghostface” mask for the Scream franchise.
- Director Christopher Landon decided on the babyface mask after testing its scare factor on an unsuspecting office worker.
- Landon wrote four of the six Paranormal Activity films (2-5) and also directed the 5th installment (The Marked Ones).
- Originally titled “Half to Death.”
- The original ending of this film involved Tree being murdered again thus entering another time loop. The test audience reacted furiously to this ending as it lead the viewer to believe that the protagonist would never be free despite solving the mystery of her death and becoming a better person in the process.
- Director Christopher Landon says you’ll find Easter eggs in the film, one which is particularly large, that will reveal the cause of the time loop. According to Landon, there is a definite reason for it.
- In reference to the time loop, Landon has stated that specifics of the time loop are being saved for a sequel.
- The scene where Tree and Carter sit cross-legged across from each other as she eats the cupcake is an homage to a scene in Sixteen Candles.
- We witness 14 deaths in the film, 8 of which are Tree’s, yet after the final time loop occurs only one character from the film has actually died.
- Tony Garnder originally designed a pig face mask for the film. This was decided against due to already being done in the Saw films.