When we look back upon 2017, we can be sure of one thing, it has been a fantastic year for Horror. The genre has never died, despite the ludicrous cries from “cinema experts” that such is the case, but you can argue that some of the bigger studio backed Horror films have rested on their laurels a bit some years. Well, this year, that is certainly not the case, as the likes of Get Out, IT, Annabelle: Creation and even this years Saw franchise sequel/soft reboot Jigsaw have all hit the sadistic spot. And now Blumhouse – off the success of some of the aforementioned – introduce this new time loop horror to an audience currently buzzing about the genre!
Happy Death Day is unafraid of the inevitable comparisons to be made conceptually to Groundhog Day, heck it even references it (admittedly unnecessarily) itself, but it is a refreshingly well written take on the idea. Like Christopher Smith’s Triangle this uses the time loop set up to murderous effect but in this case, uses the idea to address modern day college campus life and more impressively, does this with likeable characters. Touching upon sorority rules and some of their oppressive tendencies, as well as issues of sexual orientation and perceptions of the perfect partner being far different to the true nature of love, Happy Death Day is generously written by Scott Lobdel and escapes some of its more conventional ideas and any chances of people being a tad worn down by one too many loops, by excitedly but fondly lampooning some well established slasher tropes.
The ‘Babyface’ villain may not be getting a Ghostface-like following anytime soon and the film does lack some of Scream’s, well, screams but Christopher B. Landon keenly directs with sole focus on the main character and her trial of the soul. The halls onscreen are very familiar to the real life schools of America and – in some ways – here in the UK, as are the people themselves. This said, the cast really click with the film’s tone and make you care about those that could get in the way of the mask wearing baddie’s blade. The mystery is one that has a genuinely unexpected resolution but the twists, loops and reveals will not be what lingers most strongly, that would be the absolutely incredible performance by Jessica Rothe.
As Tree, Rothe is initially (and quite bravely) not a nice person but her ability to use this maddening predicament to improve herself and not just to escape back to her routine of diets and bitchy cliques makes our sympathies never wander and Rothe is endlessly charismatic, entertaining and hilarious in the lead. There are scenes here that Rothe energises with a fiery charm and her onscreen budding relationships are genuine as opposed to tiresome. The best of which is with Carter (the guy she whose dorm she endlessly is destined to keep waking up in), played by Israel Broussard, who strikes up a very convincing chemistry with Rothe and both characters emerge as people you hope make it through. Even if some of the supporting faces are less structured than these two, you still are entertained by the cast of this on-campus whodunit/slasher and by the end rewarded by a film with heart, laughs and some very fun usage of the conceit.
Happy Death Day is overall a great surprise and goes beyond expectations by generously putting its time based narrative to good use and filling the screen with a lead character who develops dazzlingly and will very likely make Jessica Rothe into a star.