Happy Death Day is a 2017 horror comedy that Chaz has been trying to get me to watch for a while. Unfortunately, he won’t be joining me for this sitting as he’s not very well and is currently snuggled up in bed with the hot water bottle. So, on this occasion, I’m going it alone. And you know what? I kind of had fun.
The simple premise of this film is almost literally Groundhog Day as a slasher. Our main character, Tree (a name I simply couldn’t get over, but the actor who plays her, Jessica Rothe is fantastic in this role. She’s witty, she’s fierce and she’s fed up) begins to experience déjà vu, with each day starting with her waking on her birthday, in someone else’s bedroom, a walk of shame across her campus and her day ending with her being killed over and over again by someone in a baby mask. The kills are striking and the way Tree eventually figures out who her killer is believable. So, let’s take a closer look at Happy Death Day.
Tree is a great lead character. Why? Because when we first meet her, she’s not a particularly nice person. However, the more she goes through and the more times that she dies, her layers are peeled back one by one, changing her for the better. Initially, she appears to be a self-centred, destructive young woman who doesn’t care about the feelings of the people around her. Particularly those of Carter (the one who’s room she keeps waking up in) who becomes her confident and the only one who repeatedly believes her when she reveals she’s stuck in a time loop.
It’s his suggestion which spurs her to dive headfirst into the mystery of who is killing her – so she uses the loop intelligently. Tree slowly becomes warmer; we find out that she’s self-loathing and regrets pushing people away. At the beginning of the film, she feels untouchable, someone you can’t possibly empathise with. But by the end, you’re cheering her on and hoping that she succeeds in staying alive and ending the loop.
This is not a scary film, however, it’s a very playful one. Tree herself eventually starts to have fun with the loop – doing things that she wouldn’t normally risk in everyday life (such as walking naked across campus). We’re allowed to laugh at Tree’s predicament at certain points. Happy Death Day very clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the teen slashers of the 90s and the 2000s, taking us to various familiar (and occasionally creepy) areas for Tree’s deaths. These include an underground walkway, a hospital and a carpark – all recognisable and fertile hunting grounds for a prowling serial killer.
We’re given ample amounts of red herrings throughout which keeps the audience guessing. You know what? I guessed too. Sometimes with films like this I’m determined to figure it out and I kind of ruin the film for myself. But on this occasion, it was so easy to let myself just enjoy the ride. The killers reveal wasn’t shocking, but it was a fun surprise.
That’s the key – fun. Whilst several of her death scenes are tense, her realisation when she wakes up in Carter’s bed once again give the audience permission to chuckle. That’s brave of a film – letting us laugh at our hero’s terrible reality.
In an interesting twist, we’re never given a reason for why Tree finds herself in the loop (though apparently its revealed in the sequel Happy Death Day 2 U). The film revels in not telling us too much (though eagle eyed watchers could possibly guess who the killer is if they kept track of Tree’s movements in each day of the loop) and that makes it a fun little murder mystery. We’re also not given too much of the characters – we simply glimpse them how Tree views them – mostly passing fancies or of no real consequence. The only character we’re really given any time with, beyond Tree, is Carter. The more time that passes in the loop, the better she gets to know Carter and the more she cares for him. That’s it. It doesn’t matter that its simple, it’s good storytelling.
Whilst Happy Death Day doesn’t really give us anything new, and it certainly won’t be remembered as a film which changed the horror comedy scene, it’s very easy to watch, to digest and its stupid fun. We need more films which are good, honest, stupid fun (and I know I’ve said it before) – it’s good for the soul.
Overall I had a good time with this film and I’d like to watch the sequel to find out more about Tree’s story and to find out why the loop occurred (though to be honest, the mystery of it was an extra point for me. I like it when not everything is explained).
Thank you for reading everyone! Next up on the list is Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance/ghost story Crimson Peak.