Happy Death Day (2017) starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, and Ruby Modine. Directed by Christopher Landon.
We horror fans can often sniff out a good movie just from the trailer. The clues are right there. You know, things like bad CG effects, a cast of impossibly good-looking twenty-somethings playing teenagers and most of all, a ridiculous premise.
You can usually tell the stinkers from the gems, but it’s not an exact science. Sometimes a trailer can be misleading, for better or worse. For instance, It Comes At Night famously became one of the most polarizing films of 2017 because the trailer was so different from the actual movie. That same year, a trailer debuted for a film that I immediately dismissed called Happy Death Day. Here’s the synopsis:
College student, Teresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer’s identity.
Kicking off to the hip-hop beat of Go Shorty, It’s your Birthday, the trailer features a killer in a stylized mask, lots of gorgeous, “CW-looking” actors and preposterous premise. It was a horror movie rip-off of Groundhog Day. It looked dumb and I wanted no part of it.
Even when positive reviews started rolling in, I had no interest. Then a few of my trusted “horror friends” saw it and said it was actually pretty good. Or in some cases, really good. Finally, I decided to give it a chance and I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised.
The trailer did not convey the true spirit of this movie to me at all. It turns out that Happy Death Day is a clever little horror comedy that pays homage to the slasher flicks of the 90s. It’s very self-aware and leans into the whole Groundhog Day thing, giving it the perfect tone. Maybe it was the trailer, maybe it was the name of the movie or maybe it was me, but I just didn’t see that coming from the previews.
The movie’s quality can be attributed to good writing, sharp wit and a stellar performance by its lead, Jessica Rothe. She is charming, engaging and is able to take the material seriously enough for the scary and emotional moments. She’s also funny enough to pull off the comedy like a seasoned pro. As a matter of fact, the entire movie has just the right mix of horror and humor without becoming a spoof or just another bad horror flick with a gimmick.
It also does not go on for too long. It clocks in at a well-paced 96 minutes. The repetition in the story would have lost its appeal if it had gone on much longer. Instead, each time Tree relives her day, we are still laughing, still invested and still trying to guess who done it.
No, Happy Death Day is not the best movie in the world, but it is a solid watch. It’s a lot of fun and has just enough bite to satisfy your horror appetite. As I said, it’s a tribute to 90s slasher movies and horror fans in general. They made this movie for you, so by all means check it out. You’ll be happy you did.