HAPPY DEATH DAY (6 out of 10) Directed by Christopher Landon; Written by Scott Lobdell; Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine; Rated PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, language, some drug material and partial nudity; Running time 96 min; In wide release October 13, 2017.
College student Tree Gelbman is having a really bad day.
Not only does she wake up hungover in a stranger’s room, but it’s her birthday. And a masked killer in a baby mask has targeted her for death. And every time she dies, she wakes up again.
Yes, it’s a PG-13 slasher movie which even admits it’s ripping off Groundhog Day. And while many of the films homages fall flat, most of it works. In the world of bad horror movies? You could do a lot worse.
The best part of the film is its star, Jessica Rothe. She is an awful garbage person, and embodies every bad vapid sorority sister stereotype you can think of. It helps make her deaths over and over somewhat more entertaining, because you really dislike her. When she realizes just how many people have a reason to want to kill her, there’s actual some real penance. You start to root for her. It’s a great character arc, and Rothe really pulls it off.
On the negative side, the film rips off far too many better movies. Rather than beautiful homages, they seem designed to hit you over the head with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. “Look what we’re referencing now! Get it?!?” But, it’s not terrible to see bits of Vertigo and Sixteen Candles on screen– you just wish the film hadn’t relied on these to provide most of its best parts.
The film also seems to have a hard time following its own rules it sets up. Some of the twists and turns are inexplicable, some of them laughable. Oh, and apparently whatever college town this is set in has the most explosive and flammable cop cars known to man.
But, like with many of Blumhouse productions’ movies (The Purge, Get Out), there’s a subtle social message underneath the horror guise. A scene where our heroine is attacked in a frat house bedroom gets interrupted as a frat boy opens the door to see the masked killer on top of her, his hands around her throat and her yelling for help. Frat bro laughs, and leaves the room. Ladies and gentlemen: rape culture.
The film also dismantles Mean Girl culture and shows its reductio ad absurdum spawning (legitimate?) grounds to wanting to murder someone. You also get a taste that many of the reactions we have to these character traits are based in misogyny– literally leading to us rooting for the mean girl to die. Are we, the audience, the true villains here?
What could’ve been a purely sophomoric experience actually ended up mostly enjoyable. While by no means a great movie, if you’re looking for something slashery in a PG-13 motif, Happy Death Day delivers the equivalent of a grocery store layer cake… with a candle on top. Ain’t nothing wrong with cake.
6 out of 10