Sitges 2017 Review: Happy Death Day is the horror version of Groundhog Day you were waiting for
What if you had to relive the same day over and over, only you die at the end of each day? What if that was a lot of fun?
Despite its huge popularity during the 80s, the slasher genre is all but dead. It is a problematic genre – the black guy always dies first, only the virgin gets to be the Final Girl. But every now and then someone comes along and proves that there are still good stories to be told within the slasher genre. Christopher Landon is that man, and Happy Death Day is that film.
Described as a horror version of Groundhog Day, we follow sorority mean girl Tree (yeah, what a name), played by Jessica Rothe. She is the last person you would expect to be the Final Girl in a slasher film; she starts the film waking up in a random student’s dorm, she’s having an affair with her teacher and she’s part of a sorority that despises the idea of good food and skips breakfast – basically a monster.
While a normal person would celebrate their birthday, Tree gets brutally murdered by a creep wearing a mask with a baby face on it. Then, she wakes up in the random student’s dorm and it’s her birthday again.
Jessica Rothe is a revelation. She’s not your normal slasher protagonist, and Rothe isn’t out to play one. But she does manage to carry the film on her shoulders, as she does both the comedic, the horror and even the dramatic elements of the film with grace. You believe the pain she feels after being stabbed so many times, the horror at waking up to relive your death day, and the ghosts of her pasts that still haunt her.
Happy Death Day is one of the most imaginative slasher films in years. Its ridiculous premise never overstays its welcome, and the narrative keeps reinventing itself and keeps you engaged throughout the film. Director Christopher Landon pulls every kill in the book to torture poor Tree. She gets stabbed – a lot, she gets drowned, shot, hung, burned to death, her heard gets smashed, you name it.
Not only is the story refreshing, it is a very good-looking film. Director of photography Toby Oliver – also in charge of this year’s terrific Get Out – makes Happy Death Day explode in color. From your expected reds, to a surprising use of pastel colors, there isn’t an ugly scene in this film. The editing also adds to the experience, as the film’s editor Gregory Plotkin is obviously inspired by the quick-editing style of Edgar Wright.
Happy Death Day is also a surprisingly emotional film. We start to feel for this girl as she tries to be a better person, despite knowing no one will remember when the day resets. There’s also a bit of family drama that adds emotional weight to Tree’s character.
Despite some holes in the plot and some unanswered questions, Happy Death Day is a great film experience with a villain that not only resembles but deserves to be compared to Ghostface from Scream. By the time the credits roll you will have laughed, then cried, then leave the theater with a big smile on your face.