Happy Death Day (15)
Running time 1hr 36mins
IN this most spooooooky of months, cinemagoers were in want of some old-school scares, of a flick divorced of the horror genre’s new-found arthouse pretensions (and, I would guess, of IT’s sheer blockbuster brawn). When the script for Happy Death Day materialised on a discerning producer’s desk, I have no doubt it went down a storm – a fusion of Groundhog Day and Cravenian slasher promised big bucks, and the concept is just about high enough to keep it from getting comfortably grouped in with the rest of Hallowe’en’s limp screen offerings (speaking of which, there’s a new Saw film on the way…).
And, in its defence, the movie has a certain edge that appears to have been lost on the bulk of its detractors – the team behind it have clearly taken notes from the Scream playbook, setting out to do for the slasher film of the 2010s what that franchise did for the slasher film of the ’90s. Take Jessica Rothe’s heroine, Tree, a spoilt sorority queen who finds herself forced to repeat the events of her birthday on loop. The twist; there’s a killer out to get her, wearing a baby mask that might (just might) be up there with the best of teen horror’s sinister props. A ‘final girl’ who’s hypersexual, hard-drinking to the point of alcoholism and possessed of an arrogance bordering on sociopathy might just be the revolution the genre needed… provided, of course, the flick was any good.
Happy Death Day was originally billed as a Michael Bay project, starring Megan Fox. I content myself with the thought that it might, then, have turned out far worse than it is. Its riotous pacing and (relative) bloodlessness make it an ideal entrée into this cultish, rather dated tradition of horror cinema, though anyone older than 14 has likely already whet their appetite with better (and scarier) movies. Its hackneyed title, of course, merrily follows in a long tradition of slasher films themed around special occasions (Black Christmas, Halloween, My Bloody Valentine), but it lacks the Grindhouse-esque self-awareness that would allow it to capitalise fruitfully upon that legacy; certainly, it has none of the classics’ grit, darkness or real nastiness (many of the kills happen off-screen). Rothe just about ensures the action lasts the film’s runtime, but her character’s little more than an overcooked birthday Scrooge, someone we have little incentive to actually root for.
Failing that, Happy Death Day’s very premise ensures that the scares fall flat – we’re always ready for another contrived run-in with the killer.
Worst of all, its subversive potential is quickly squandered in pursuit of moralistic ends, a frightfully common theme in fright-night cinema of late, as Tree learns ‘vital’ lessons about monogamy, friendship and trust the (very) hard way.
Ultimately, it stands up poorly to the films its creators idolise. The first two Scream movies were schlocky, but they had real character and an appreciation for the postmodern psyche that impresses to this day.
There are glimmers of inspiration in Happy Death Day, but they’re just that – glimmers.