REVIEW: Happy Death Day (2017)

Happy Death Day (2017)

Written By: Nigel Asipa
Blumhouse productions seems to have another hit on their hands. With the previous successes such as Get Out, Split, The Purge to name a few, Happy Death Day is this generations Scream with a Groundhog Day twist.
I came in, half looking forward to it. Despite its current box office making back it’s small budget at least 10 times over, I had my trepidations thinking this gonna be yet another hollow scare fest which will be quickly forgotten about in a couple months.
Instead what I got was a smart, savvy, wickedly funny and surprisingly life affirming thriller flick of one sorority girl’s nightmare relived over and over. What it’s got going for it is its acknowledgement of how self-referential it is, as well as its own ridiculousness and playfully addresses common tropes we’re used to nowadays while not being afraid to embrace those clichés. As if to say that certain tropes are worth revisiting, given that it attempts to make things fresh to make that embrace forgivable.
It’s Monday October 18th. Tree’s birthday (Jessica Rothe). A mean spirited, intolerable 20 something who wakes up on the one day where it’s all about her. She’s in a dorm room, in a room with a guy she barely knows (Israel Broussard) and whose company she doesn’t enjoy. She ignores her dads phone calls, she started two fights the night before and disses just about everyone she encounters. The leader of her sorority is just plain awful (Rachel Matthews) and she’s having an affair with one of her lecturers. So yeah, no halo over her head.
At the twilight of her day she’s stalked by a figure behind the mask of her university’s mascot. She thinks it’s just a prankster trying to get their kicks freaking her out of her wits and soon she comes at the wrong end of a knife to wake up to where she started her day.
Everything happens as they occurred before. She even senses déjà vu for a little while and she diverts a different route, she thinks nothing of it and tries to enjoy her day as she’s supposed to, after all it’s her birthday, right? Well the baby-faced killer won’t have it, and goes after her again.
She wakes up yet again, right where she started and has slight effects of the grim ‘dream’ she just had. She says at that point, “This is a nightmare” and when she notices a sticker that says, ‘this is the first day of the rest of your life’, she sees the twisted irony of her situation and tries to piece together why this is her reality and what she can do about it.
Director Christopher Landen (who wrote Paranormal Activity 2-4 and the spin off, The Marked Ones) does a credible job to balance the irony, oddity and tongue in cheekiness of the whole affair and by adding in a dash a poignancy to entice its audience with recognising the current state of horror fare we get today.
Jessica Rothe has a plum role where she can show the many facets of her character that showcases both her charisma and comedic chops. It’s a breakthrough performance that ironically brings to mind that her character is trying to make a breakthrough in the cycle she’s in.

The scarefactor isn’t that effective and that’s probably because it’s not trying to scare you. It’s got more on its mind; its light-hearted appeal is what offsets the creepo factor and Landon doesn’t leave the audience completely in the dark. Things which seem insignificant at first become suspect to the seemingly inevitable demise of our heroine. There’s misdirection for both her and us, and it’s with this in mind that screenwriter Scott Lobdell makes a little room for pathos that doesn’t feel like an afterthought.
It comes to light it’s not so much about Tree needing to figure out who the killer is, whether she’ll know them or not, but more on how well does she know herself. She’s at her most vulnerable when she feels too comfortable or too familiar. She sees a better version of herself whenever she wakes up and that’s what we all need to do.
Anyway, I slightly digress. 1 real issue I would have though is that when the villain is revealed, it doesn’t make a whole deal of sense. Their motive is ridiculous, though the whole thing is ridiculous, but it doesn’t allow for the ‘oh my god I can’t believe it’s them’ reaction it ought to earn.
Rob Dean from sums up Happy Death Day as failing “to take on riskier elements to produce something that’s as horrifying as it is humorous”. But for all its quirkiness, skimmed violence and vibrant energy, Happy Death Day is feisty, often subversive and entertainingly sadistic that measures up as one of the smartest thrillers I’ve seen in a while.
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