Thursday, April 18, 2019
A Happy Surprise
Happy Death Day is essentially a slasher movie mashed up with Groundhog Day (a connection the movie itself cleverly acknowledges). Spoiled sorority sister Theresa ("Tree") is murdered on her birthday... only to awaken again at the start of the same day. She must find out who's out to kill her and why, then avoid the same fate to break the cycle and stop repeating the same terrifying and painful day.
Perhaps low expectations worked in this movie's favor, but we found ourselves enjoying it more than we expected. I think its because the movie itself wasn't content to be as simplistic as most slasher films; it's not just a "one thing" movie. It's part slasher, part science fiction. It's Groundhog Day, but also a bit Mean Girls. As it serves up the visceral thrills of a horror movie, it's also actually rather funny overall. And it packs all this into a tight 96-minute package that doesn't overstay its welcome.
There are some clever twists in the plot best not spoiled. It serves up a wide variety of entertaining deaths -- as all horror movies must, but which seems especially appropriate here in the "repeating day" scenario. There are just enough red herrings woven in to satisfy; even if you get ahead of some plot developments, there's a fair chance you won't anticipate them all. And I'll say semi-vaguely that the movie does an excellent job of blending the "learn to be a better person" conceit of Groundhog Day with the "one last scare" trope of horror movies.
The cast is made up mostly of unknown actors, from top to bottom. In the lead role, Jessica Rothe is fairly strong, realizing a character arc of growth and change while serving up the required "scream queen" moments. But like the only names you might recognize are behind the scenes here: director Christopher Landon is the writer of the Paranormal Activity sequels, while composer Bear McCreary provides some fun music that brings moments of "teen movie" to the suspense vibe he established in 10 Cloverfield Lane (among others).
While Happy Death Day didn't rocket to the top of any particular movie list I might make, I did like it enough that I'll probably seek out the sequel at some point. It's a solid B movie (which you can take in more than one sense, I suppose). If you're a horror fan, it's well worth checking out.