Spoiler Alert! I think I tried to avoid spoilers for these movies in this post, but I can’t be entirely sure. Therefore, I am placing the ubiquitous spoiler warning here. Consider yourself warned.
Much like my attitude regrading sit-coms, I’ve kind of lost my taste for slasher flicks. I saw Halloween and Friday the 13th when they first came out at the theater. At the drive-in, to be honest, which is an experience worthy of its own blog post, but I’ll save that for another time. The jump scares, the gore, the violence; it’s all sort of old to me now. There’s only so much you can see before it all looks pretty much the same and, let’s face it, I’ve dismembered several human bodies myself. No biggie. So, when I first heard about Happy Death Day, I wasn’t very interested. I probably would have remained completely ignorant of the franchise were it not for my unending hunger for things to watch. As chance would have it, I happened to stumble across Happy Death Day 2 U, the second movie, and figured, “What the heck?” I didn’t think I’d really be watching it, but surprise! What I found was a fun filled thrill ride that kept me intently watching the action.
What makes these movies different from the standard flavor of slasher movies? If you’ve read my previous posts, I’m sure you know the answer; because they’re fun. We follow the protagonist, Tree (Jessica Rothe of La La Land and the upcoming Valley Girl), the stereotypical sorority girl and total bitch, as she wakes up in the dorm room of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard of the Bling Ring and Extinction), all around, mild mannered nice guy. Her hangover doesn’t help her disposition any and she storms off across campus back to her sorority, where she’s an asshole to her roommate, a fellow sister and several random college students before fooling around with her married professor. After it’s established how shitty a person she is, true to slasher movie tradition, she is butchered by a masked killer, whereupon she awakens, once more in Carter’s bed. And so goes the pattern, as Tree is killed again and again, each time waking up, ala Groundhog Day, until, it is presumed, she solves her own murder.
With my love of comic books, it’s no big surprise that I enjoyed Happy Death Day; it was written by Scott Lobell, a comic book writer who has penned such titles as The X-Men, The Teen Titans and Superman. He stated that he wanted to follow the pattern of having the bad girl die first and the good girl to be hunted last and (in some cases) survive, and that he wanted the main character, Tree, to be both of them. To achieve this, Tree’s character changes, grows throughout the course of the movie, this character development being one of the most satisfying aspects of the movie. I’ve talked about certain movies being genreless, but Happy Death Day leans into genres and tries to stuff as many of them as possible into the film. It is undoubtedly a horror, but the mystery of who the killer is also a central feature. It is a romance, has comedic elements and, regarding the change in Tree’s personality over the course of the movie, feels a little like a coming of age story.
The Sequel, Happy Death Day 2 U, released just 16 months after the first movie, picks up immediately where Happy Death Day left off. It follows roughly the same pattern, throwing an element of Sci-Fi into the mix. This is the movie I saw first, but I recently watched Happy Death Day and went back to rewatch the sequel. Both certainly work as stand alone films, but seeing the first does make the second more enjoyable. In the second film we get to see the reason that Tree was trapped in a time loop, which is a fun pay off to wait to explain until the sequel. I would love to hear about a Happy Death Day 3, Lobell has even intimated some of his ideas for that, but the word from the producer, Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions (of Paranormal Activity and The Purge, to name a few), is that it is unlikely, though not impossible. I’m not holding my breath.
If you haven’t seen it, and you’re a horror fan, I sincerely recommend these movies, preferably seeing them close to each other as possible, for maximum Easter Egg detection. There have been countless films featuring a knife-wielding maniac in countless variations of this theme, but Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2 U are both a breath of fresh air. It’s fast paced, quickly getting the setting and character introductions out of the way to start the killing and mayhem as soon as possible. Hat’s off to the editors on these movies, as they feel like films expertly trimmed of all fat. I applaud Rothe’s performance, as she proves that there are no small roles, as she expresses a range of emotions never before seen in Slasher movie history. Or, at least, that I’ve never seen, most horror movie protagonists seemingly limited to stunned bewilderment and shrieking terror. These actors have been a big source of my dislike of slasher films, since I find myself rooting for the killer. Tree becomes a very likable, somewhat relatable main character, that will have you cheering even minor victories. In that respect, it throws in more more genre to the mix. An action movie.