HAPPY DEATH DAY Review
Director: Christopher B. Landon
When I think of October I think of Halloween, pumpkin spice lattes, and creepy horror flicks. I’ve always loved scary movies and all things Spooky™, so I was pretty enthralled to go see one on a Friday the 13th that just so happened to land on the spookiest month of the year. For superstitious horror fans like me, it was basically Christmas. And HAPPY DEATH DAY does certainly begin with one of the most horrific things of all: waking up, hungover, in some stranger’s dorm room. The walk of shame is honestly as equally terrifying as any murderous mask enthusiast hunting you down like prey—and unfortunately for rude sorority girl Tree (yes, Tree) Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), she has to encounter both of these things again, and again, and again until she finds out who her killer is. Tree experiences a GROUNDHOG DAY-reminiscent purgatory, and with each new murder that takes place, she grows weaker, more paranoid, and more hell-bent on avenging her own death.
I mean . . . Do you really need another reason to see this film?
There’s nothing more upsetting than the concept of constantly reliving the day you die, unable to move on from it. I mean, the best thing about having a bad day is getting to sleep it all off, waking up to a fresh start in the morning, right? Unfortunately for Tree, on her “last day,” she has to deal with a deluge of snarky, passive-aggressive comments from her “sister” and fellow mean girl Danielle Bouseman (Rachel Matthews), close encounters with the wife-of-the-professor-she’s-sleeping-with kind, and an accidental chocolate milkshake shower. How Tree deals with them in each subsequent day shows either how far she’s come or how much more she has to go.
My favorite thing about HAPPY DEATH DAY is how it looks at the lives of preppy, entitled, self-centered college students through a satirical lens. From the moment Tree wakes up in dopey cutie Carter Davis (Israel Broussard)’s dorm, it’s obvious she’s one hell of a bitch. As she storms through campus back to her sorority house, she encounters many eccentric individuals and deals with each in her preferred snotty way. As such, it’s almost refreshing and vindictive to see her killed by the baby face-masked mystery murderer. Though like those doomed to repeat their days à la Groundhog hater Phil Connors, Tree learns to be a better person over the course of the film.
Tree is an interesting protagonist in the sense that she becomes the composite of two different archetypal horror characters: the licentious mean girl who gets killed off after showing some skin and the killer heroine who stops at nothing to (try to) survive—the final girl, if you will. Despite all of Tree’s flaws, she has an irrefutable charm that draws you in. Jessica Rothe is captivating onscreen, and Tree is a stellar protagonist to follow as—while she does die repeatedly in the film—she constantly comes up with ingenious ways to almost evade her killer. Rothe carries the whole film and is the only reason I’d want to rewatch it.
Sixteen Candles 2: Sixteen Deaths
It’s no horror masterpiece, but HAPPY DEATH DAY does have some entertaining scenes and gut-wrenching—though often hilarious—deaths (ie. Tree getting stabbed in the throat with the tube of a broken bong). It boasts an exceeding amount of classic horror tropes subverted just enough to add a balanced layer of familiarity and ingenuity. If you don’t obsess over the logic, you’ll be sure to have some light fun (I mean, her name is Tree, for God’s sake). Some plot points aren’t wrapped up as neatly as others—but the sheer amount of creative twists is enough to imbibe the film with refreshing vitality and drive. However, it does get a touch too emotional for a horror film (or maybe I’m just too sensitive), ultimately delivering its message about the importance of being a good person far too overtly. In spite of its flaws, HAPPY DEATH DAY is a fun thriller to watch if you have some time to kill, even if it’s a better candidate for a late-night Netflix selection than a theater-going experience.