Horror loves a whodunnit. And, teen solo slasher Happy Death Day prepares to deliver a slice. Yes, we’re only one sentence in and I’ve already served up a cake pun. Two puns. I’ll stop.
Happy Death Day dares to follow in the mammoth footsteps of both the wildly and not-so successful ventures of teen-targeted terror. We’re not going to try to differentiate between the great and not-so, because one could argue I Know What You Did Last Summer is so bad it’s good (me. I will). But, we can talk Scream.
It’s no argument that Wes Craven’s case of the Ghost Face reigns supreme above a mountain of modest attempts. Scream succeeded where others did not. Daring to be fresh, new, and self-aware. This was in a genre that at the time was only delivering carbon copy flicks to an age group having just discovered the joys of a disposable income. There is a lesson to be taken from Scream. Teen horror is a dime a dozen; to rise above the box office and now, the all-mighty the tomato — you’re going to have to wow the kiddies.
Will Happy Death Day fly with the tindering, streaming, memeing under-25 bunch? We’ll have to wait and see.
Tree Gelbam (Jessica Rothe) is a care-free sorority girl who wakes up on the wrong end of a hangover. She slinks from the bed of charming do-gooder Carter (Israel Broussard), holding only hazy memories from the night before and a charming case of bed-head.
We quickly love-to-hate Tree. She would fit in nicely with the bee-yotches of Mean Girls, or the not so sweet Sorority of Scream Queens. Tree goes about her day; ignoring do-gooders, shaming a date from hell, and smashing cupcakes left and right (a travesty to cupcakes everywhere). She’s self-centered, but something cracks beneath the surface. We learn she’s been hiding the fact that it’s her Birthday, and catch her ignoring calls from Daddy.
After a tour around campus and a rendezvous or two with our cast of characters, it’s plot time. Tree heads to a party, opting to take a questionable route alone at night. Cue the Bayfield Baby, our masked assailant. After a short and creepy tussle in an underpass, Tree wakes up in hangoverland. Again.
We again follow Tree throughout her route as she works through some ‘maybe a murder victim’ amnesia. Hungover in Carter’s bed. Campus quad. Cupcake. Late for class. Party time. And, Appearing from the shadows like a bad memory, Babyface is back. The masked murderer succeeds in killing Tree a second time. And instead of meeting her maker, Tree is sent back to round one. And again. And again. Tree gets stuck in a loop, every night kicking the bucket in inventive ways only to wind up back at the beginning. But as the death count piles up (or does it?), the wounds start to come back with her. Time is running out and Tree must track her killer and solve her own murder before she runs out of lives.
Overall, Happy Death Day is a fun, action-packed hour and a half. Without breaking the wheel, it delivers a rowdy slasher that youths will surely eat up. The unique structure of this film provides fun from the first death to the final and will connect to its underage audience with pore-taste jokes and feel good moments. Movie-going audiences will turn junior detectives attempting to solve this pleasantly macabre murder mystery.
Though the ‘varsity whodunnit’ sub-sub-genre may be a little tired for the seasoned horror fan (clutching tightly to their copies of Scream 2), this film will find its home with a crowd just discovering horror. And for them, it will be a treat.
Happy Death Day is directed by Christopher Landon, who co-wrote the film with Scott Lobdell. Jessica Rothe stars. The film opens wide in theaters this Friday, October 13th.
P.S- I’m being super vague about my thoughts on purpose #sorrynotsorry. You can hear our full opinion on next week’s Episode of Nightmare on Film Street Podcast. Download it wherever podcasts lurk. Or, you know.. on this website.