Sometimes with a little scream you need some laughs. Blumhouse’s latest, Happy Death Day, commendably nods to slashers and satires like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods. Though not quite as groundbreaking as those titles, the film certainly delivers on chuckles by poking fun at well-established (and relatively dormant genre) slasher tropes. What makes it engaging, however, is its choice to zero-in on clever characters and precise plotting to deliver an exceedingly good time.
Time loop plots are decidedly tricky. Some fall prey to ostentatious or heavy-handed twists. The scenarios become repetitious and fail to drive the plot forward. Most precarious is when the loop is explained, dismantling the audiences’ suspension of disbelief. Happy Death Day encounters some pacing and tone errors in its opening act, but shows a remarkable recovery in self-awareness by playing with its own absurdity and providing a steady stream of thrills in each scene.
Tree (Jessica Rothe), a caddy sorority dimwit, is murdered on her birthday. She wakes up the next day only to realize that she’s restarted her birthday. Yet, each day ends the same with her experiencing a vicious death by the hands of a baby-masked killer. While most of the film is spent with Tree in her routine, Rothe’s charisma drives what would otherwise be a mundane and serialized spoof. Capturing Tree’s nonchalance with charm and fury, Rothe gives Happy Death Day the lighthearted and biting edge it needs to resonate through confident satire.
Even though it peppers hints of classic slasher tropes in every frame, Happy Death Day is bolstered by centering Tree, who would otherwise be a victim, and turns her into a fiery heroine from the start. Whether by death montage, boarderline offensive jokes, sorority drama, or Tree taking risqué advantage of her fluidity in time, the film never questions but revels in its bombastic plotting. With the mystery of a whodunit thriller, Happy Death Day is able to stay one-step ahead of the viewer in every scene. While the question of who is murdering Tree is integral to the film’s structure, the script is keen to develop meaningful and sympathetic characters. Writer Scott Lobdell uses the time loop scenario and delves deep into Tree’s emotional status, which ultimately provides her with a thoughtful character arc that bolsters the quality of what could have otherwise been a mindless bloodbath.
Those looking for a gruesome slasher flick should avoid Happy Death Day. The film strictly adheres to its PG-13 rating, but its commendable simplicity and clean execution is what will give it a broad appeal and sophistication. Rothe single-handedly carries the film. Her boundless energy meshes well with the mean girl characterization, bringing a certain levity to the film that would otherwise ring quite grim and cynical. Overall, Happy Death Day is a nostalgic but fresh take on revered classics that deserve a proper teasing.