A horror movie has never made me smile or feel inspired.
That’s the text I sent to my best friend after I watched “Happy Death Day.”
“Happy Death Day” is like a Halloween special on Disney Channel that always comes with a lesson. But instead of spooky witches, there’s a villain that kills the main character with a shard from a bong.
Director Christopher Landon did not need to take such a didactic route. He had the “Groundhog Day” premise, first of all, which is entertaining enough since it’s something a box office horror hasn’t done. Landon’s take on the time loop genre through the perspective of a sorority woman named Tree (Jessica Rothe). Tree has to relive her birthday every day, starting from waking up in bed and ending with being murdered by nightfall. The reason someone won’t let Tree live past her birthday could have potentially been much darker.
The first time Tree wakes up, I thought I was supposed to take this movie as seriously as I took other horror movies, such as “Insidious.” With that initial mindset, the movie’s jabs at collegiate life made me roll my eyes. The over-the-top sorority cattiness (no sister would ever call another sister “chunky” for drinking chocolate milk) and the creepy goth wandering campus reminded me of what a man in his 40s would think college is like.
But the more times Tree woke up in bed on that same day, I realized that Landon was not trying to blow his audience away with science fiction plot twists. Neither was he trying to disturb us. When we see Tree attempt to expose her killer’s identity in a montage scene of goofy antics with Demi Lovato’s “Confident” as the song of choice for the sequence, I realized, “Ah. Landon is trying to be campy.”
By the 15th time the killer stabs Tree, I realized that the movie wasn’t supposed to be inventive horror.
Once I accepted this, I realized this was strangely a movie about empowerment (strut around naked on your college campus and everyone will love you), confidence (fart in front of your date—who cares, we all die in the end) and being a good person (just sign that annoying global warming petition).
I cheered alongside Tree as she embarked on her gory hero’s journey, so much so that the ending almost didn’t bother me. Spoiler alert: It’s happy. It’s clean. Tree gets the boy.
But that’s weird for a scary movie. I couldn’t help thinking there was something fishy with the boy. There’s something a little ominous about next-door-neighbor types.
I thought perhaps I was just being cynical. I should’ve been happy, even if Tree never got to the root of the question, I couldn’t help but scream: What’s the point of all of this?
Then I read that Landon hopes to make a sequel, Landon said.
“If I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to make a sequel, the answer to that question is the premise of my sequel.”
I knew it. No good scary movie can end too neatly. I’m looking forward to Landon making Tree’s life messy again.