By Idris Joyner ‘21
Happy Death Day seemed to be a lesser Blumhouse production, but the teens and the youth at the movie theatre I went too on Friday seemed to love it. I can understand why, for an audience that doesn’t remember Groundhog Day, the idea that finds a college student reliving the same day over and over (and getting killed at the end of it), might seem original.
Also, the film offers a vision of early adulthood that seems interesting to kids, as it presents college as a time for socializing, dating, and self-discovery. None of the characters are notably complicated, but at least one of them learns to become a better person during the course of the picture, which makes Happy Death Day surprisingly optimistic for a slasher comedy. The violence isn’t even scary, since the everyone knew the girl would reawaken after she gets stabbed to death. Yet in removing a sense of consequence from violence, the movie crafts an interesting metaphor for early adulthood as a time when you can fail repeatedly at life until you get it right.
The film introduces the heroine, Tree (Jessica Rothe), as a shallow sorority sister who makes bad choices in life. She starts her day by waking up in the dorm room of a young man she doesn’t remember meeting, after an unsuccessful attempt to cure her hangover, she races back to her sorority, where she enters into a passive-aggressive verbal sparring match with another sister. She disregards the attention of her kind roommate, then goes to class late. She’s having an affair with the course’s married professor, but she doesn’t put much stock in the relationship. She continues to date other students (she’s shown blowing off a guy who took her out the week before) and, as we learn from one of her friends, makes out with random guys at parties. The day ends when a masked stranger stabs Tree to death when she’s walking home from a football game.
After the idea of Groundhog Day, the day begins again, with Tree waking up in the stranger’s dorm room. She figures out what’s going on fairly quickly, yet she can’t escape her killer at the end of the day. She dies, then reawakens, and the process repeats. Assuming she’ll be able to advance in time once she avoids dying, Tree sets out to discover who wants her dead. In doing so, she realizes that she’s been a shit to so many people that she can’t easily find out who her killer might be.
This news sparks the development of the movie’s second half, in which Tree tries to make better decisions and change the course of her life. “Director Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) nicely handles the shift in Scott Lobdell’s script from spooky mystery to redemption story, playing Tree’s transformation as the stuff of upbeat comedy. Rothe also becomes more likable during the course of the picture, conveying her character’s intelligence and vulnerability as she evolves.”