Postmodern horror parodies are ten-a-penny post-Scream, and range from gushing adoration of the genre (Tucker & Dale vs. Evil) to the witless taking of the piss (Dead Snow 2). Happy Death Day, this Halloween season’s entry into the canon of self-aware splat, lies somewhere in between.
Happy Death Day follows student Tree (Jessica Rothe), who wakes up in a stranger’s bed with a crippling hangover on her birthday. She gets up, lives out her day (which consists of her being horrible to everyone on campus) and then gets murdered by a baby-masked killer. Then she wakes up. Again. In the same bed. With the same hangover. On the same day, only to get offed by the same killer. She’s stuck in a murderous time-loop, which begs the question… who is repeatedly killing her, and why?+
Naff title aside, there is plenty lot of fun to be had in Happy Death Day. The amalgam of Happy Birthday to Me and Groundhog Day works pretty well to engage the audience, even if you’re eager for a resolution a few loops before the end. Both the shocks and jokes find their target more often than they miss, even it isn’t as funny as the average comedy or tense as the average horror. It even bridges on the uplifting; Jessica Rothe does a great job of leading us to admire Tree, an outwardly hateable sorority type who comes to treat people with kindness and respect. By the end we genuinely want her to pull through, a U-turn you wouldn’t think impossible in the first 30 minutes.
All-in-all, Happy Death Day is an enjoyable slasher outing with a surprisingly golden heart. It sits comfortably next to Cabin in the Woods and The Loved Ones as effective slasher trope subversion, even if it isn’t quite as clever, intense or gruesome as either of them.