An Unexpected Pleasure:
Happy Death Day
If Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049 were two of my favourite films from 2017, then Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day is definitely the one that turned out to be the most unexpectedly good. Considering the title and the poster, I walked through the cinema doors anticipating a standard slasher movie, released for the Halloween market; instead I emerged with a big grin and warm mushy feeling in the stomach that made me wonder if they might have been better off releasing it for the Christmas market! And I didn’t see that coming.
Yet that shouldn’t put off horror or/and slasher fans. Along with its genuinely creepy mask killer and some quite tense moments, this film has enough to satisfy them. It’s simply that it tries to do something a little different with this fairly predictable sub-genre.
On September 18th ‘Tree’ Gelbman (Jessica Roth) wakes up in the dorm room of Carter (Israel Broussard) after a drunken blackout of an evening. He’s not the kind of guy that a supposedly cool girl like her would normally bother with and she legs it pretty sharpish. We then follow her through her day, learning it’s her birthday and meeting her sorority sisters, a pretty witless and charmless bunch of vacuous self-centred bores. That evening she is heading out, finds herself stalked by a masked looper…and murdered. End of movie.
Well, no. Because Tree then wakes up on September 18th in the dorm room of Carter and…. That’s right. She’s in a time loop straight out of Groundhog Day.
However, whilst obviously inspired by and nearly as witty and likeable as that brilliant movie, director Landon (son of Little House on the Prairie’s Michael) and Marvel Comics stalwart, writer Scott Lobdell do their best to make the material seem fresh and very much their own. And here they simply couldn’t have done it without a truly remarkable actress who, if there is any justice, is destined for great things.
Jessica Roth has one of the most beautiful and expressive faces I’ve seen in a while. This gorgeous woman can play a scene both broad and subtly suggestive. There is a lovely moment – nearly as good as I’ve seen on the screen all year – when the normally self-centred Tree realises that Carter isn’t the pick-up-a-drunk-chick lout that she had him marked as, and she gives just the very faintest of smiles that melted this old cynic’s heart. Considering that I had been loathing her character up until then, it is quite a moment.
As with Bill Murray’s smarmy weatherman in Groundhog Day, Tree finds that the constant repetition is making her examine the type of person she is; and she doesn’t like what she sees. And those fifteen minutes or so when she attempts to right things was a pure, undiluted joy for me. I can’t wait to see what this actress does in the future.
On top of that Happy Dead Day is a solid thriller and miles ahead of overhyped tripe like this year’s Get Out. Nor will it make as much money as It although it’s streets ahead of that one, too.
But it deserves to.