In a year in which we’ve gotten fantastic horror such as Get Out, It and, to a lesser extent, Split and pieces of trash such as Wish Upon, The Bye-Bye Man and Rings, sometimes something that falls right in the middle is exactly what we need.
That need is fulfilled by Happy Death Day, a PG-13 slasher (shudder) in which our main character, Tree (Jessica Rothe) is constantly killed by a baby-faced killer and must keep reliving her birthday over and over and over and over and…you get the point. It’s Groundhog Day meets a ’90s slasher; cheesy, stupid and, surprisingly, pretty decent.
As mentioned, Tree is stuck in a time loop, dying each night on her birthday. Tree is, for a lack of a better term, a bitch. She would fit right in next to the Plastics in Mean Girls. She’s self-centered, rude and, most importantly, embarrassed by who she went home with the night before.
This introduces Carter (Israel Broussard), the sweetest geek at the college. Each morning Tree wakes up, he doesn’t remember a thing she divulged in him before, but she grows fonder of him each step along the way. Rounding out the cast are, sadly, a bunch of faceless, nameless characters, mostly of the sorority variety. The two who get the most screen time are Ruby Modine’s Lori, the unfortunate roommate of Tree, and Rachel Matthews’ Danielle, quite possibly the biggest bitch on campus.
The fun of the film stems from a fun, if not all original, premise, the all-out silly comedy and the fun of a murder mystery. Tree and Carter are convinced the killer is someone she knows and she begins to stalk and spy on those she thinks are out to kill her. This leads to a ridiculous montage of Tree staking out houses, figuring out someone isn’t the killer, only to run into the killer and finding herself back in Carter’s bed in the morning. Rothe is fantastic, growing a little more maniacal every day. Rothe superbly plays a variety of emotions, from scared, bitchy, drunk, humorous and sexual, all things that lead to her eventual deaths.
The comedy is the films biggest strength. Aside from the variety of diverse ways Tree dies, the dialogue is…something else, that’s for sure. I’m not in a sorority, so I won’t pretend like this is how women in them talk but if so, bravo. The way these girls say “byeeeeeeeee” to each other made me laugh every time. Certain scenes are set up particularly to make you laugh, such as a full on rave room where we get the best dance scene in film since Crispin Glover in Friday the 13th IV. Even certain scenes with the killer are funny, as Tree is certain she knows how it is at one point (she’s wrong).
The killer is the film’s biggest fault. The baby face is quite creepy and, for some ungodly reason it’s the universities mascot, but when you find out who the killer is, it’s a bit of a letdown. It makes sense, until it doesn’t. The filmmakers make you believe the killer is set up to be involved in the death of Tree’s mom but, in fact, they absolutely drop that subplot.
The PG-13 rating also ruins the fun a little bit. I’m not the guy who says “PG-13 horror is garbage” because when you have great films such as Insidious and The Ring, not to mention Gremlins PG rating, I can argue horror can work as PG-13. However, I don’t think slashers should be PG-13. Slasher tropes are tropes for a reason; nudity, drug and alcohol use and gory kills are a must and, sadly, this film only implies these things. As much fun as the deaths were, it felt as though things were cut to remove any sense of gore, which is sad as it could have added some, I don’t know, horror.
Happy Death Day is a fun take on the horror-comedy genre. It’s not very scary, but the slasher elements are there, and as that’s my favorite subgenre, I really appreciate that. The acting is very good for a film of this type and the kills are pretty damn fun, minus the blood. It has problems (like every slasher) but if you’re looking to laugh for 90 minutes, definitely give this one a shot.