Well after reviewing the sequel Happy Death Day 2U and being surprised by how great it was, I decided to review the first one as it is now one of my favourite horror-comedies.
The story is Groundhog Day meets Scream. Theresa "Tree" Gelbman wakes up on Monday the 18th, which is her birthday, and it is also the day she gets murdered. She immediately wakes up on the same day again. She must relive the day of her murder over and over again, in a loop that will end only when she discovers her killer's identity.
Tree Gelbman is a twist on the stereotype of a female character in slasher films often called “The Cheerleader”: beautiful, unlikeable, usually a blonde who sleeps around and always gets killed (in fact, you usually want her to die).
At the start Tree is pretty obnoxious, mean to everyone she sees, and is sleeping with her married college professor. Fifteen minutes in and you certainly hope she dies, and in fact she does, by some crazy killer in a mask. The only difference is that she doesn’t stay dead, and when the day loops backs she’s only one to remember the event.
This sends Tree on a journey of highs and lows. At first she’s in denial, then she’s traumatised, and then she starts to take advantage of it.
She's determined to find out who keeps killing her. However, it’s not easy because she’s been mean to a lot of people and her suspect list is huge. So she has to keep dying to reduce that list.
Until all her previous deaths begin to take a toll on her physically and mentally, she realises she can’t keep looping too many times. Through this we see her grow as a character; she becomes a likeable heroine you route for to survive.
Jessica Roathe delivers a great performance, with some great comedic timings as well as some really emotional moments. She also makes Tree’s arc believable, making it feel natural rather than forced, letting us follow her on her journey while buying into her complexities as a human being even before we get into her backstory that explains why she is this way.
Tree’s development transforms her from a “Cheerleader” stereotype into a worthy “Final Girl”. In fact, she deserves to be in league with other iconic Final Girls like Laurie Strode from Halloween, Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare On Elm Street and Sidney Prescott from Scream.
It follows the Groundhog Day formula well, with a few differences such as each death having repercussions on her next loop, as well as a very clever twist as to when the loop will finally end.
Each repeated day is well done, and never feels too stale as each time she wakes up is represented differently depending on her state of mind, with different camera shots and sounds.
The film also has the advantage of being a comedy/horror as it never takes itself too seriously and is always self-aware. Like the Scream franchise it’s a slasher with a murder mystery plot as well as a satire on horror, taking advantage of the tropes we’re used to and putting a cool spin on them.
Written by Jack Parish