Party On! A Review of ‘Happy Death Day’

These days, horror has become “serious business.”  As a genre, it has always struggled for attention and credibility, and recent mainstream films have taken a stab at doing so.

Pun intended, people.  You know it was.

Recent movies such as Get Out, The Witch, The Babadook, and It Comes At Night have all gone out of their way to be artistic and have something to say.  They are amazing, there is no denying it.  However, it has sparked an odd theory amongst non-horror fans: if I don’t like horror movies, and I liked this one, it must not be a horror movie.

Weird, right?  Say you don’t like raisins, and someone gives you a dessert with raisins in it.  If you like the raisins in the dessert, you’re not going to say that you only enjoyed them because they weren’t raisins.  You enjoyed them because they are different than the raisins you normally dislike.

Now I know that this analogy is a long shot – I know many a raisin hater, and they always hate raisins, but you get the gist.  If you enjoyed it, why not just admit it?  Why quantify it?

Well, I am here to tell you – movie lovers of all kinds, you will love this movie.  Lately, horror has been trying so hard to be appreciated that it is sometimes forgetting what makes it great.  In general, it has forgotten how to be just plain fun.  Well, as fun as a guy in a creepy mascot mask going around stabbing people can be, anyway.

Happy Death Day sounds like one of THE cheesiest titles in horror history.  And in some ways, it is.  But make no mistake – this movie is FUN.  It is a clear throwback to the days where a simple slasher movie could be smart and entertaining without buckets of gore.

The premise is simple – a not so nice sorority girl, Tree, wakes up in a dorm room on the morning of her birthday, completely hungover.  At the end of the day always ends the same – a psycho in a creepy baby mask murders her.  And then she wakes up, doomed to repeat the same day over and over a la Groundhog Day until she can figure out the identity of her killer.

There are several factors that make this so much more than its gimmicky premise.  The first and most important is that Tree, played by Jessica Rothe, is an instant asskicker.  She fights back immediately and determinedly.  She kicks.  She punches.  She hits the guy with a hammer.  And, most importantly, she makes smart choices.  This means that your frustration grows with hers as she tries and tries (and tries) to avoid being murdered, only to be foiled again and again (and again).  She also very quickly accepts what she has to do, rather than having the movie waste time while she figures it all out.  She is a well-rounded character, and her moments of self-realization as she goes through the list of the many, many people who could have possibly killed her are well-acted and believable.  She is also the true hero of this movie – no boys swooping in and saving her.  Going into this movie, I definitely wasn’t expecting to love this character, and the fact that I did was a completely refreshing change for a blonde in a slasher movie.

The other great thing about this movie is that it doesn’t try to overcomplicate the storyline.  There is a simple set of rules that is always followed, yet the writers managed to throw in a really great twist or two.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously, having fun with the audience and really considering what a person would do when put in this situation in a way that helps viewers relate to Tree despite the fact that she is not the world’s greatest human.

And, last but not least, the deaths themselves are oddly entertaining.  Because you know that Tree will always wake up, it takes some of the direness out of the deaths, allowing you to just sit back and enjoy.  You will laugh at some of the ways that she dies, and you will enjoy her reaction each and every time she wakes up in that dorm room.

And so, to all the horror fans out there: be prepared to go in and come out remembering why you love horror movies in the first place.  Take a non-horror loving friend to this one to show that horror can be great without labelling it a “psychological thriller” or “dark social commentary.”  Take a friend who is too chicken for scares – the lack of any real gore, combined with tongue-in-cheek dialogue and a few well-placed jump scares will leave them wanting more.  Go see this one, and have a great time no matter what your taste!

PS – studios, take note!  Happy Death Day made five times its budget in the opening weekend alone.  It’s time to recognize that horror done right is horror that people are watching.

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