UK Release Date: 20th October 2017
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Christopher Landon
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Charles Aitken, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine, Rob Mello
Synopsis: A sorority girl becomes trapped in a time loop on the day of her murder, which also turns out to be her birthday. She must find the killer before her time runs out.
Horror has had a hell of a year, but it seems as if it’s been a long time since we had a bona fide slasher movie in cinemas. In fact, Adam Wingard‘s brilliant 80s homage You’re Next was probably the last notable example. Given the apparent gap in the market, it was only a matter of time before the genre-defining folk over at Blumhouse debuted a new take on the slasher and, sure enough, Happy Death Day has arrived in cinemas just in time for it to become everyone’s favourite new Halloween party movie. It’s a witty, inventive film that never takes itself seriously, but still knows when to twist the knife.
We first meet absurdly-named sorority girl Tree (Jessica Rothe) when she wakes up in the dorm room of a stranger (Israel Broussard) after a particularly hard night of hedonistic partying. It’s her birthday, but that doesn’t stop sorority president Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) digging at her, while she is also knocked back by the professor (Charles Aitken) she is secretly seeing. Given the amount of people who hate her, it’s perhaps unsurprising when Tree is murdered by a masked assailant later that evening. What is surprising, though, is that she wakes up and relives the day over again.
Like so many recent horror movies, Happy Death Day is unafraid to wear its influences on its sleeve. Its dialogue openly references Groundhog Day and its masked killer is clearly cribbed from Scream, but the joy comes in the way director Christopher Landon – in a huge step up from his dismal Paranormal Activity spin-off – brings a sense of fun. The film isn’t enormously scary, but it’s so exuberant and sparky that it’s impossible not to have a good time.
Much of that sense of fun can be ascribed to Jessica Rothe, who is obviously having a ball with the leading role. Tree is a deeply unlikable protagonist when we meet her, but Rothe deepens and develops her as the story goes on, winning the audience’s sympathy with her innate charisma. A montage of rapid-fire deaths as she pushes the limits of the time loop is carried out with a particular sense of style and humour. Israel Broussard is a consistently appealing presence in support, giving the movie a more straightforwardly pleasant central character to build around.
Landon finds real imagination in his horror set pieces and benefits from a script by comic book veteran Scott Lobdell, which packs in more twists than a Chubby Checker dance party. Any time the narrative appears to be veering into conventional, obvious territory, there’s another rug-pull to ensure that Happy Death Day keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s got a real sense of humour from start to finish and moves at such a breakneck pace that it’s impossible to be anything other than gripped.
Blumhouse has had a banner year with the success of Get Out and Split and that success has continued with Happy Death Day, which is currently butchering the competition at the pre-Halloween box office. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a horror movie with an awareness of the slasher sub-genre’s camp potential that is willing to bring the laughs as well as the scares. There’s enough splatter to keep the gorehounds happy, but enough humour to leaven the horror and send the date movie crowds home with smiles on their faces.
Pop or Poop?
Happy Death Day is not a movie that will freak anyone out alone in the dark, but Halloween parties across the country have a new favourite to add to their lists. Jessica Rothe is a future scream queen to watch and it all comes together with an avalanche of twists in the final third, building to a great Groundhog Day quip.
Randy from Scream would definitely have loved it and I wanted to loop back two hours so I could watch it all over again.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.