‘Happy Death Day’ Is Not a Typical Teen Slasher

In the high point of the 1980’s slasher craze, when Michael Myers terrorized babysitters on “Halloween, ” and Jason Voorhees slayed the camp counselors on “Friday the 13th,” many films attempted to replicate the success of those big screen modern monsters. Holiday-centric horror was born. From “My Bloody Valentine” and “Graduation Day,” to “Prom Night” and “New Years Evil,” every special day had its own coordinating slasher. “Happy Death Day” is a modern day continuation of that prior trend, giving the annual birthday celebration an evil, campy, delicious, albeit predictable take.

Sorority snob, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) relives the day of her murder over and over again until she is able to figure out who her masked killer is and why they want her dead. The day in question just happens to be her birthday, which she shares with her recently deceased mother. Each night, Tree finds herself stalked and killed in a multitude of ways before walking up and starting all over again. This allows the film the opportunity to get very creative with a variant of death scenes.

One element that comes as a pleasant surprise is just how much comedy is infused into the horror film. The movie, which is very self-aware at its “Groundhog Day” premise, doesn’t shy away from using venomous sorority sister stereotypes, one-liners, and comedic beats to invoke the designated crowd.

While all the sorority sisters sit together at the lunch table, some of the sisters shrew at the only girl eating food. When they question her as to why she is eating such a high caloric intake, the sister Becky, notes that she skipped breakfast that morning. “What even is breakfast, Becky?! We are Kappas,” the head sister quips.  

Comedic elements are further pervaded during a somewhat outlandish and over-the-top montage set to Demi Lovato’s “Confident,” as Tree goes through her list of suspected killers and checks each one of them for an alibi. From discovering that one of her hook-ups is actually gay to tracking down the wife of the professor she is sleeping with “Apocalypse Now” style, the montage appears like it came straight out of a John Hughes high school comedy. It is evident by his repertoire that director Christopher Landon is used to sprinkling in a fair dose of comedy, even if it bends slightly out of the genre.

The script, penned by Scott Lobdell, does have its fair share of plot holes that become more problematic as the film carries on. Paired with a predictable “twist” ending, the “rules of survival” pertaining to the “Groundhog Day” scenario seemingly change mid-movie. But then again, if the viewer were looking for a more logical film, they probably wouldn’t be watching a teen slasher to begin with.

Any story snafu’s here are for the most part forgiven by Landon, who gives special attention to “Happy Death Day.” What could have easily come off as a typical teen-slasher felt slightly elevated by Landon’s presentation, which utilizes several interesting edits, lenses, and callbacks to slashers of a different era. The babyface masked killer, whose on-screen presence is marked by an eerie vocal score, has all the mixings to become a slasher franchise. But the high concept makes it appear that this is simply a one-off treat. For producer Jason Blum and the team behind his banner, Blumhouse Productions, the horror giant who experienced much success earlier in the year with “Split” and “Get Out,” “Happy Death Day” feels like another unique experience for genre fans.

Happy Death Day” opens in theaters in Friday, Oct. 13.