Happy Death Day by Christopher Landon
Since Groundhog Day came out in 1993, the premise of a single person being forced to live the same day over and over again has been adapted for the science fiction (Edge of Tomorrow), thriller (Run Lola Run), and psychological horror (Salvage) genres, with even television episodes from Charmed, The X-Files and Xena: Warrior Princess getting in on the act.
Happy Death Day passes the idea over the slasher genre, in which Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) relives her birthday countless times — with it ending in her murder at the hands of a masked killer each time. The solution seems clear: she has to figure out who it is that keeps killing her if she’s to move forward with her life.
One of the staple components of this type of story is that the main character learns something from their experience. In this case Tree is that typical “first victim” of your standard horror movie: a blonde sorority girl who treats everyone around her like dirt; someone whose death at the hands of a killer doesn’t feel all that tragic.
As the first day unfolds, you can compile a pretty long list of suspects from the people she insults. Yet as the loop sets in, Tree not only starts to become a better person, but we realize she had a pretty good reason for being awful in the first place. To have this level of characterization in a dark comedy horror was an unexpected twist.
The story itself is also inventive, and as with the best takes on this story every little detail has significance, from a glimpse of a police officer in a hospital, to a three-second blackout that happens at the same time across the city.
Happy Death Day is also a surprisingly funny movie, with plenty of dark humour as Tree learns to embrace her destiny and become almost blasé about her inevitable death — though there’s also a ticking clock at work. Every time Tree comes back, she’s a little weaker. Even with all these second chances, she’s still running out of time.
Character development, plenty of good scares, some genuinely funny moments, a surprisingly sweet romance — it’s got something for everyone, even those who don’t usually enjoy horror/slasher movies. It’s not a particularly gory or violence slasher; in fact, the film usually cuts to black in the moment before each of Tree’s (many) deaths.
Oh, and for the record, we never get a scientific or supernatural reason as to why Tree ends up in a Groundhog Day Loop in the first place, so don’t except an explanation on this count. It’s just a way to kick-start the plot, though I kind of like the theory (highlight here to see spoiler): her mother was orchestrating the whole thing from beyond the grave [end spoiler].
The Happy Death Day DVD contains the usual bonus features: a ‘making of’ short, a look at some of the suspects, a compilation of Tree’s many deaths, and deleted/alternative scenes (you’ll be happy to know that they changed the deeply unsatisfying original ending).