A refreshingly-meta and wildly-original modern black-comedy/time-loop slasher from Blumhouse with college-energized atmosphere, shocking twists-and-turns, stylistic kills by a scary concept of reliving your own death, fantastic soundtrack, & star-making central performance by Jessica Rothe. 8/10.
Plot Synopsis: Tree Gelbman is a stuck-up sorority girl who wakes up on her birthday in the dorm bed of a student named Carter. As the morning goes on, Tree gets the uneasy feeling that someone is watching her. That night, a masked killer finds and slashes her, but she wakes up the same way she did that morning: In Carter’s Room on the same date. Stuck in an endless cycle until she figures out who is killing her, everyone is a suspect.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Official CLC Review
Just walked out of the theater having seen Happy Death Day and I’m hyped to say that the slasher movie ain’t dead!!! I know what you’re thinking: Uh ANOTHER slasher movie? Let’s point out all the clichés and slasher hallmarks hammered to death by sequels like Friday the 13th Part V and Nightmare on Elm Street 6. That’s what I was thinking walking into the theater as well. I’d seen the trailer and was moderately intrigued by the premise: like Groundhog Day meets Scream Queens, so I thought whatever, I’ll give it a try. Not only did the movie surpass my expectations, but as a someone who really likes horror movies and how they get your heart racing, I felt an overwhelming sense of positivity for the future of the genre if they keep coming out with original pieces like this, It, etc. and left really having enjoyed Blumhouse’s latest hit.
There are a lot of things this movie gets right. For one, the genre combination is unique and refreshingly meta as the movie is self-aware of its predecessors and what it is. The horror/black comedy/sci-fi combo is cool to see and pays off in spades for modern horror king Blumhouse who is building quite an impressive empire with original and imaginative horror releases like Get Out, Happy Death Day, The Visit, and the Purge. The genre combination is nothing compared to how incredible Jessica Rothe is in the central role. She is unbelievably good – have a feeling this movie is going to skyrocket her career and rightfully so. She is believable, beautiful, and wide-ranging in her acting being able to bring the stuck-up sorority girl & humbled, caring samaritan to life & alternate.
The character development and snappy script/writing are also extremely well-done. This is logically the biggest worry for anyone going into the horror movie and a major flaw of the genre itself (in modern times). Slasher movies rarely make you even care about the characters, or seem like they even care themselves, making them a bunch of unknown hulls just waiting for the big bad to come get them. However, what makes Happy Death Day such a breath of fresh air is that it showcases a radical idea: You CAN have character development in a slasher movie. Tree evolves tremendously over the course of the 90 minutes (great timing too, not too long with brisk pacing keeps you invested the whole time) and through Rothe’s acting & writers’ tricks, you truly feel invested in Tree’s fate.
The who-dun-it story and mystery is well-executed as well in that you have no idea who the killer is – the sign of a good slasher movie – and it weaves in many well-written and non-cliché characters that all have motive and even serves as great misdirects. Even the killer reveal is inventive as it has a first reveal where it lets you think you know who it is, only to have it completely turned upside down when they reveal who it really was pulling the strings the entire time (a nice reveal too that was especially shocking). The jump scares are also very good and get you good a couple of times. The movie is not very scary itself, and it knows it – opting more for a comedy with some horror elements and memorable scares than to be a Halloween-like horrifying experience. When they show the first introduction to the killer in the outdoor hallway with the musical box, there is a jump scare at the end that literally makes you fly out of your seat and is a ton of fun. The slasher is also cunning, persistent, and good (even if his design isn’t, which I’ll get to later) in the frightening concept of having to relive the same day and tragic, painful ending every day. The soundtrack is also awesome, with a great dubstep-y scoring for the horror scenes that is unique and really cool.
Finally, the comedy, romance, and setting. The chemistry between Tree and Carter is one of the biggest surprises & best things about the movie. It flows naturally and isn’t forced but allowed to progress slowly through multiple different iterations of the day – a nice touch and addition rarely seen in most movies in the genre. The comedy is also hilarious. The setting of college is perfect and opens the door for some of the funny situations and interactions we can all remember from college like dorms, different college student stereotypes, and people having to do the walk of shame through the quad. The college chosen looks very good and Rothe is especially hilarious in the role. Last but not least, the ending is one of the most inventive and intricate endings I’ve seen in a slasher movie as it takes it back to the start of the day not once, but twice after we think the main hero has solved it, disheartening and shocking as it satisfying reaches its conclusion.
Now, the flaws. For one, the slasher. The baby mask is not that scary, I’m sad to say. Out of all of the possible killer costumes and inspiration to take from tremendously designed get-ups like Jason, Freddy, Ghostface, etc., they choose to have a baby-face? The slasher not being especially scary in appearance would usually automatically cripple a horror movie into being a complete failure, so it is even more of a testament to the rest of the elements of the movie that it still succeeds besides this glaring flaw. The killer is scary with his actions and persistence, just shockingly bad-designed, especially for a company in Blumhouse who has made it clear they can design GREAT costumes like in The Purge.. While the movie is refreshingly self-aware and tries to break open the box of horror movie clichés, it still is guilty of a couple of them. For example, the long gazes at the victim by possible suspects, killer hiding in the closet, turning off the lights as a foreshadowing, etc. These aren’t exactly subtle and detract from the experience as they’re shown multiple times. If they only would’ve steered completely clear – and they should’ve credited their sources of course taking the concept from Groundhog Day and slasher-meets-college-campus horror/comedy from the immaculate AHS-showrunner series Scream Queens (that did the concept 100x better too but this one’s still serviceable),
Overall, Happy Death Day is a refreshingly meta and well-executed modern slasher/black comedy that is thoroughly entertaining and showcases many intricate ideas, twists and turns, and a star-making performance by Jessica Rothe. While it is not perfect, the killer not scarily-designed, and copying large portions from other media, I walked out of the theater having really loved it & feeling optimism for the future of the slasher genre.
Official CLC Score: 8/10