I can’t say Happy Death Day is particularly frightening, nor is it particularly funny. The plot twist is pretty contrived, it gets frustratingly repetitive and there are moments that just don’t make sense even within its own fantasy universe. So why did I enjoy this so much? This is a case in which so many of the moving parts are messy and dysfunctional but they inexplicably come together as a cohesive whole. It’s like being on one of those giant carnival slides over and over again, or watching a fidget spinner.
Simply giving the horror movie scream queen agency and a solid character arc shouldn’t necessarily give a movie feminism brownie points. But keep in mind that when this film was first being produced in 2007, it was to star Megan Fox and be directed by Michael Bay. Compared to the exploitative disaster that probably would have been, this is a feminist masterpiece. Tree (Jessica Rothe) is sexy, sure, but she is always in control of her own narrative, and at no point does the camera glide up her half-naked body from a low angle- Bay’s favorite way to film Fox. And yes, this is entry-level feminism- such as the fact that the reason we know Carter (Israel Broussard) is a good guy is because he didn’t have sex with her when she was blackout drunk. The bar is low. But Happy Death Day works because I truly enjoyed following this main character, not just because she’s a little more complex than other horror movie sorority blondes. Tree might be shallow and self-involved but she’s also intelligent, funny and has some substantial character growth. Her confidence is infectious and despite her flaws we still want her to make it out alive- she’s just a fun character to spend a movie with.
Happy Death Day knows exactly what it is. It’s tonally focused. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “camp” but it is a horror comedy, a subgenre just silly enough that not a lot of suspension of disbelief is required to accept that their school mascot is a baby, or that someone who despises their own birthday so much would have a pre-set birthday ringtone. Perfect? No. But it wasn’t trying to be.