Happy Death Day should leave audience with a smile

DEVIN MEENAN — Happy Death Day 2U, the fifth film from director and frequent Blumhouse Productions collaborator Christopher Landon, debuted in theaters earlier this year. I have not seen it yet, for the simple reason that I had not seen its predecessor, simply titled Happy Death Day.

That has changed now that the Denison Film Society screened Happy Death Day last weekend from March 9 to March 10, and I’m now, if nothing else, curious to watch the sequel.

Set at the fictional Bayfield University, Happy Death Day tells the story of Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) who, true to the title, is murdered on her birthday by a masked killer. Upon dying she wakes up in the same place as the previous morning, the day of her demise repeating in a loop ad infinitum. Left with little alternative, she attempts to stop the killing from taking place and learn her killer’s identity in the process, while (of course) experiencing some personal growth along the way.

Just from that cursory description, you probably realized that Happy Death Day isn’t a film that hides from its inspirations. The most obvious of which is Groundhog Day, from which the film gets its central time loop plot and which is directly referenced at the end in a moment that proved to be too on-the-nose for my tastes.

That film is far from the only influence on Happy Death Day, however; the film is the kind of concoction you get from throwing horror tropes in a metaphorical blender then seasoning it with meta-commentary.

Tree’s story arc quite loudly echoes Buffy The Vampire Slayer. A stereotypical “mean girl,” the type of character typically the first victim in a slasher, who turns herself around, becoming a better and more capable person in the process. I was also reminded of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell, as the film’s share some surface-level similarities; the blonde female protagonist, the seeming hopelessness of the struggle they’re entwined in, and the tonal blend of horror and comedy.

This particular genre hybrid is ultimately more Wes Craven (of Scream and A Nightmare On Elm Street fame) than Raimi though, lacking the latter’s trademark mixing of absurd violence and humor in favor of often meta-comment meant to humorously deconstruct convention. Ultimately, one of Happy Death Day’s strengths proves to be its fleeting running time; clocking in at a mere 90 minutes, the film never overstays its welcome and moves at just the right pace to remain breezily entertaining. Tree’s transformation might seem a bit rushed as a result, but Rothe is clearly having fun with the part, and as a result, you probably will too.