Bitchy sorority girl Tree wakes up one morning in a boy’s dorm room, it’s her birthday and she dreads every minute of it. It’s established that she and her other sorority sisters are snobs and no one likes her. On her way to a party that night she is killed by a masked killer, she then wakes up the next day and realizes she’s living out the same day she had. Every day she continues to be killed until she makes it her mission to find out who her killer is and break the chain.
Happy Death Day follows the typical formula that Groundhog Day started, living the same day over and over, and ultimately trying to become a better person or change your life in the progress. This film adds a fun slasher to the mix. And it massively succeeds. The repeated day thing may seem tired by this point in time after countless other films. But this twist on it makes it stand out more than other films that take the formula too seriously. In terms of the slasher aspects, there is so much to enjoy here because it plays out like a good old-fashioned slasher film. It even has certain scenes that give slight homages to other slasher films. The fact that our protagonist doesn’t die the same way is a blessing. Each kill scene sets itself up differently and it feels as if we are watching your average slasher film but it’s basically a one-woman show (with a couple of exceptions where an occasional extra person is killed). The chase/kill scenes are also so brilliantly executed, thrilling, and well-done that it almost makes up for lost time with the lack of slashers we’ve had. I also don’t know if this was intentional, but throughout the film Tree begins to change as a person, and it ultimately builds her up to develop a full-on final girl persona. She starts out as your stereotypical bitchy girl in a slasher and goes through several personas along the way. The killer at hand is pretty creepy, and the actor playing the killer nails the physicality. This also isn’t a full-on serious slasher completely, there are several points where it is clearly having fun with itself, and this also works to its advantage. The film is definitely comical at times as well.
Because there is repetitiveness involved, it does an excellent job of keeping the viewer engaged by switching its gears so it’s not a complete retread of everything. And in true slasher formula, we have plenty of suspects to go around, and it succeeded in keeping me guessing, and even when you think you have it, it throws some good curveballs at you. For what it is, it’s actually a very clever and well-written script. Yes, the PG-13 rating can come off as a bummer at times, but you know what, it didn’t bother me because it offered more than enough to make up for a lack of extreme violence and blood. As far as the cast goes, newcomer Jessica Rothe turns in one hell of an excellent breakthrough performance. As I mentioned, Tree goes through different personas through the film on her way to becoming a new person, and Rothe kicks ass at it. Even when she’s playing the bitch at the start you still kind of love her, and she really makes you root for tree along the way. Rothe also shares some pretty great on-screen chemistry with Israel Broussard as Carter, the boy whose room she keeps waking up in. We see their chemistry grow throughout the film and you do find yourself secretly rooting for them to end up together, and Rothe’s and Broussard’s chemistry really sell it. Broussard also turns in a solid and charming performance and brings some life to the film.
Happy Death Day is a fresh take on the slasher genre while still giving us what we love about slasher films. It’s fun, thrilling, well-written and directed, and a lead that goes through one hell of a great arc and is just as well-developed. On top of that we get a great performance from Jessica Rothe as the lead and the charming performance from her male counterpart.