By Staff Writer Arpita Gaggar
With its mask-donning killer and its endless murders, Happy Death Day perfectly timed its release for Friday the 13th before Halloween. Despite the film’s low budget of just $4.5 million, Blumhouse Productions managed to produce a movie perfect for its target demographic: young adults. Christopher B. Landon, best known for writing the last three Paranormal Activity films, directed this comedy-thriller. The engaging actors and quality cinematography contributed to its $25.6 million opening weekend box office, which topped the domestic charts.
The film is centered around Theresa, or Tree (Jessica Rothe), who is characterized as a typical popular, pretty, and mean college girl. Someone wearing a mask of a single-toothed baby murders Tree on her birthday, but she wakes up unscathed the next morning, only to find out that she is reliving the same day. With the help of a geeky, kind college student named Carter (Israel Broussard), Tree spends the length of the 96-minute film identifying her murderer and attempting to escape the time loop that she is stuck in.
The suspense starts building from the first minute of the film, when Tree wakes up in Carter’s room. The film focuses on Tree’s seemingly ordinary day, but a sinister soundtrack plays in the background the whole time, setting the scene for the terror to follow. The low piano notes repeating as mundane events play out on-screen keep viewers on the edges of their seats as they are constantly reminded that they are watching a horror movie. In these tense scenes, the filmmakers use techniques such as focusing on the main character and blurring out the background, and then bringing the murderer standing behind Tree into focus, effectively building up the suspense until Tree actually gets killed. The combination of the relentlessly terrifying music, the dark lighting, and the chilling baby-mask killer helps the film earn the title of bona fide thriller.
Despite the grave theme of the film, several humorous moments help lighten the mood. A turning point from drama to comedy occurs when Carter tells Tree, “You have unlimited lives to solve your own murder,” and she decides to live life freely since she’s going to die again anyway. Tree does some comical things she would otherwise never do in fear of the consequences, and starts to treat people better. Demi Lovato’s song “Confident” accompanies a lighthearted, upbeat montage of Tree getting killed in comedic ways as she eliminates possible murderers from her list of suspects. The audience gets a chance to sit back and take a much-needed break from all the suspense. While unexpected, the subtle comedy and irony in most of these moments enhances the experience of watching the film. The filmmakers also weave in an emotional, slightly cliché father-daughter reconciliation and a romantic subplot, which, although out of place in a horror movie, help make the film more appealing to teenagers.
However, as Tree continues to wake up again and again on the day of her birthday, the audience begins to expect that the same sequence of events will be occurring. The predictability of this repetition starts to detract from the film, as does Tree’s unsurprising character development from a mean girl into a decent human being. However, in each repetition, the film highlights subtle new clues leading up to the murder that were present since the beginning of the film, which sets an appropriate pace for the film despite its predictability. An ironic plot twist at the end helps redeem the storyline as well.
The film also overlooks several logistical details, which diminish the scare factor of a classic horror movie, since the events are foreseen. Another plot hole is the murderer’s motives, which remain unsatisfyingly vague and don’t convince the viewers of the killer’s actions.
While not completely realistic, Happy Death Day is an appropriately haunting movie to watch this month for horror fanatics and newbies alike. Those looking to watch a slasher film will be satisfied, while viewers unused to scary movies will gain solace from the comedic moments interspersed between the thrills, thus making the film enjoyable for all movie-goers.
Photo by universalpictures.com