Happy Death Day

Rating:

Of course it premiered on Friday the 13th

Main Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard

Director: Christopher Landon

I have to be honest; Happy Death Day is not at all something that would usually land on my Netflix DVD rental queue. Even more honestly, I have no real idea why it ended up there. But hey, happy surprises, right? Or perhaps more a lesson on not judging a movie by its genre.

Happy Death Day is a horror/thriller based on a Groundhog Day type premise of repeating a day over and over. In this case, the day in question is the day sorority girl Tree (short for Theresa) is murdered. It also happens to be her birthday. The days are not identical and she is able to affect outcomes, but mostly just the manner of her murder, not the fact of it. She needs to solve this mystery!

I know, it sounds really dumb and slasher-y. And it sort of is. But it’s also kind of scary and kind of funny and really surprisingly good. Its success boils down to two key ingredients: performances and script.

Jessica Rothe is great as Tree. She’s a rude, spoiled, unhappy college girl with an ugly mean streak that cannot be excused by her clearly sad history of loss surrounding her birthday. She’s perfectly hate-able in every single moment of the first day. Gleefully hate-able, even. She looks even nastier compared to her angelic and patient roommate (Ruby Modine), and her awkward and sweet one night stand (Israel Broussard) to whom she will wake up on each of these repeated days. Her other sorority sisters and the local frat boys are her despicable equals and we spare them no pity.

What makes this performance notable is how well Rothe does with the transformation of Tree. Obviously the character cannot remain this hideous or no one would root for her to alter her fate. Writer Scott Lobdell gives Rothe the gift of a script that deftly balances horror with humor and a little pathos and together the two make Tree into an actual human being rather than just slasher bait. It’s quite a treat to watch.

Also giving good performances are Broussard as awkward wake-up boy, and Rachel Matthews as an archetypal hideous sorority girl. Everyone looks like they’re having fun with their roles, which makes the whole thing fun for the audience. Happy Death Day is never trying too hard, or pretending to be anything deep – it’s just an entertaining horror comedy.

If you completely hate horror, maybe take a pass, but don’t be too afraid of excess gore. There are definitely bloody scenes, but they aren’t all-out gross and they’re often cartoony. There are a few jump scares but they also aren’t played very seriously. The mystery of who killed Tree is far more central than the slasher killings.

I really enjoyed Happy Death Day, which seems like a weird sentence to write. It’s very well scripted and acted and I’ll gladly see the sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, which boasts much of the same cast.  

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