When Dying Is Fun - Happy Death Day
Jason Blum is killing it. He keeps green-lighting relatively low budget horror content that is filled with original ideas and doesn't take itself to seriously. Happy Death Day is the latest in a string (Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Get Out) of movies that feel fresh even though their premises feel familiar. They feel familiar because they are the kinds of ideas that come up when people are just spitballing movie ideas. What if murder were legal? What if you set up a camera to watch the ghost in your house? What if you had to live the same day over and over? If that last one sounds even more familiar, it is because it is the plot of Groundhog Day--the spiritual successor to Happy Death Day. And much like it's predecessor, Happy Death Day tackles the subject with humor and wit that make it a fun ride.
The film opens with Theresa "Tree" Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) waking up in a dorm room she doesn't know. She talks to the guy whose room it is, rushes out past his roommate, sees a couple get doused by the sprinklers on the yard, hears a car alarm and gets solicited to sign a global warming petition. Once she gets back to her own house, she interacts with her roommates and eventually ends up on her way to a party. She is killed by someone in a baby mask. Immediately she wakes up in that same dorm room and the exact same day starts again.
After a few days of this, Tree deduces that she must figure out who is killing her and stop them before she runs out of chances. Along the way, she finds that she should treat people better and discovers a better version of herself.
When a movie has a one sentence tagline like "the horror version of X," I am all in. Horror is the genre where I have the lowest threshold on quality. For some reason, it is just fun to watch people run in fear and squint as they try to unwrap the inane plot lines. This is doubly so when a movie is a self-aware as Happy Death Day. It knows it is not a vehicle for some powerful social message or intense big budget effects. It is a basic slasher movie in the lineage of Scream, with the same simple humor that made those films so much fun. It is nothing more than you would expect, but there are moments that are oddly satisfying. As it's simple plot unfolds, it is rewarding to watch Tree piece things together and you root for her to survive the ordeal.
I have no sense of where horror is headed as a genre, but if this is any indication, I am here for it. Tight 90-minute runtimes, simple premises and fresh faces all combine to make a very low risk experience. You'll get at least one laugh or satisfying jump out of this one and that is more than can be said for 75% of the stuff in theaters at the moment.
The film doesn't nail its racial dynamics, but given its low initial trajectory, I'm not sure it's fair to ask it to. Well-to-do White woman slowly starts treating the people of color who dot her story better throughout the movie. There's your moral arc. Luckily, the film does better with addressing the "rape culture" dynamics so pervasive on college campuses. The film isn't braindead--it just isn't thinking too hard. And you shouldn't either. See it for what it is--a fresh look for an often stale genre. Thank you, Mr. Blum.
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