‘Happy Death Day’ and the Subversion of Common Slasher Tropes

Tree Gelbman Scenes [Happy Death Day] | 1080p Logoless ...
Happy Death Day (Universal Pictures)

On a surface level, Happy Death Day seems like just about any other slasher but with a Groundhog Day gimmick. Released in 2017, Happy Death Day seemed to want to capture the empty space left by the Scream franchise, in that it was meant to be a fun send-up of the sometimes stale slasher genre. With the gimmick of time travel our protagonist Tree (Jessica Rothe) is forced to live her death at the hands of a serial killer over and over and over again.  Just like the Scream franchise before it, Happy Death Day does more than just provide a healthy dose of slasher antics; it breaks the mould of classic conventions.

Tree goes through a metamorphosis from victim to problem solver. Eventually this leads her to figuring out the circumstances and motives behind her own murder(s). Far too many times are slasher movies an excuse to show excessive violence towards women with paper thin characterisations. Happy Death Day actively encourages us to get to know and help our main character as she navigates such an unknown territory. She actively goes through a personality change from a stuck-up, selfish character to a kind, mature, and strong-willed one. In a rare instance, Happy Death Day gives us a slasher film in which we witness a female character go through an entire arc and become a different person on the other side of the conflict.

Happy Death Day 2 Trailer: Hey It's Your Birthday, Again ...
Happy Death Day 2 U (Universal Pictures)

In 2019, Happy Death Day 2U was released. The film picks up moments after the end of the first film and follows Tree as she sets out to solve the looming mystery behind the time-loop from the first film. Rather than being the main focus of the film, Tree is joined by a diverse cast of fellow students from her college. Among them a good number of the cast are people of colour, and while not entirely uncommon in the horror genre, they’re thankfully not relegated to being victims to pad out the film’s body count but are developed characters in their own right. That alone deserves praise.

Another area where Happy Death Day 2U stands out is in the way that it is debatably not a slasher film at all. The sequel trades in the violent and scary nature of the original and instead gives us something more akin to a hybrid of science fiction and romantic comedy. The marketing of the film kept this almost entirely hidden, so imagine my surprise when I was subjected to a total tonal shift. That seems to be the theme of these films, while on surface level they seem like your average teenage horror film, when looked into proper perspective these two films hold many surprises. In a sea of predictable horror films, it’s refreshing to see a franchise take this approach.

The Happy Death Day series may get the cold shoulder from a lot of horror fanatics, but personally I find these films to be a joy to watch. I was initially a skeptic myself, but was pleasantly surprised how many risks these films take (with the second instalment in particular). So, go in with an open mind and an expectation to have a good time – the only expectation that the films 100% deliver on – and you may find yourself enjoying these films as much as I have. Director Christopher Landon has voiced his desire to make a third instalment wrapping up the trilogy, and I personally think it would be a shame if this never came to fruition.

Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U are available to buy/rent from Apple, Amazon, YouTube, and Vudu in the US and the UK.

by Reyna Cervantes

Reyna (She/They) is located in southern California! They are an aspiring screenwriter with experience in sound design and production work, their 3 favorite films are Evil Dead 2, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Frances Ha. All of their social handles are @JFCDoomblade (twitter, insta, letterboxd).

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