Happy Death Day feels like the type of movie that could go on to have a long shelf life as teens will watch it over and over at parties and sleepovers. This movie, pitched with an easy-to-understand high concept, falls in at a perfect darkly comedic wavelength that makes it accessible even for those who are not big horror fans. It’s Scream meets Groundhog Day, and if Happy Death Day can’t live up to either of those pieces of source material, it comes surprisingly close.
Happy Death Day is a Blumhouse production, and you get the sense in watching this film that Blumhouse knows exactly what they’re doing. Filmed on what can best be described as a shoestring budget for a major Hollywood release (under $5m is the Blumhouse way), Happy Death Day may not be high art, but it knows its audience of teens and tweens exactly; it’s hard to undersell exactly how strong the audience reaction was for this film in a theater packed with that younger cohort – every comedic line, every scary moment, landed perfectly with this audience.
This speaks to a mastery of tone and feel that you don’t normally expect out of this kind of movie – and yet, considering that Get Out was earlier this year, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. It certainly seems as if Blumhouse has stepped up their game in the past couple of years and are making more and more films with greater crossover appeal to non-horror audiences; it will be interesting to see if this is just a hot streak or part of a larger shift in Blumhouse’s overall direction as a studio.
Lead actress Jessica Rothe is inherently likable even as we recognize that her character is kind of, for lack of a better word, a bitch; we can’t help but feel attached to her plight as she gets mercilessly slaughtered over and over. Aside from her weird nickname (“Tree”? Really?), she’s surprisingly fun-to-root for, and the film does a great job of carefully building audience investment in her relationship with charming lead actor Israel Broussard.
If the film is flawed, these flaws seemed to be more a result of problems and plot holes in the story itself that don’t make much sense, as well as excessive fake-outs near the end that feel slightly misgauged. The more attuned audience members will surely be able to recognize elements of the killer’s secret identity before they’re revealed, but there are still enough unexpected twists to stave off predictability.