Usually I let a film sit for a few days before I jump and exclaim how much I really dig it. And this is a film that got some good hype, but I kept putting it off, and putting it off, and continuously putting it off. So much so that I took it out of the library roughly 3 months ago and just kept renewing it every week until finally, on this night of nights, I decided to throw it in my Blu-ray player and check it out.
That film is Happy Death Day from 2017. And I have to say I’ve become a huge fan of it, considering I almost shut it off in the first 10 minutes or so. And that’s the brilliance of the film. Not since Attack the Block have I started disliking a character or characters so much so that I just wanted them to die, to ultimately by the end of the film I wanted them to triumph and have a happy ending. In Happy Death Day, Tree (brilliantly portrayed by Jessica Rothe) starts off as an awful human being, just being an asshole to everyone around her. The guy she spent the night with after a drunken party, her roommate, her sorority sisters, etc. Even the girl that just wants to save the planet. And this is where I feared this film was going like a lot of newer slasher films, especially in the last 15 years or so have gone. Unlikable characters where you just don’t care about them living, but you can’t wait to see them die in creative ways.
Don’t get me wrong. Being a slasher fan, I’m always one to cheer on a creative kill in any good horror film. But the great slashers have characters you truly care about and even when they die and you might appreciate the special effects, you still mourn for them in your own way. And Happy Death Day goes the path of Tree redeeming herself, not just for those around her, but ultimately for herself. And I truly loved that about the film. It’s all on her birthday and hopefully I’m not spoiling it for anyone, but there’s a time loop which is why she is killed over and over again. And it somehow works. The ‘science’ isn’t explained and ultimately that’s for the best (I’ve heard the sequel might explain it, which is fine), but director Christopher Landon does a fine job of keeping up the pace and changing up each scene, even when it’s a repeat in its own way.
Also, any good slasher flick has to have a cool looking killer, and the Bayfield Baby mask that the killer dons is a wonderful thing. It’s rough looking, like a horrific nightmare baby, not as sleek as the cherub mask in one of my favorite new era slasher films, Valentine. And there’s something demented about a baby face just staring into your soul while chasing you down with a knife and trying to kill you with no explanation at all. It’s an effective slasher film and one that I will be watching on repeat in the months to come.
Which brings me to this double feature and the first film that I thought of while I was watching it. Most would think Groundhog Day, of course, which is understandable. While a comedy, it is a scary concept to be trapped in one day for eternity and being the only one that knows you exist in this loop. But I decided to go with a film that isn’t universally loved. It’s actually a film that I put the word ‘cult’ on, primarily because when I was praising it when it came out, most people scoffed at me, thinking I was insane. Now a bit more people like the film now, which I just like to say, I told you so.
That film is Joseph Kahn’s 2011 film Detention. A lot of people said Kahn was ‘trying too hard’, but I actually think it’s one of the most clever and exciting horror/sci-fi films to come out in a long while. It’s very tongue in cheek, which I actually liked about the film. And it has one of the coolest looking killers to come out in awhile, Cinderhella, who in the film’s reality is a big horror slasher icon in the movies, but someone is posing as her and killing anyone and everyone in sight at Grizzly Lakes High. It also deals with insane time travel mechanics, which pairs it very well with Happy Death Day.
It also has a great cast of young up and comers, especially at the time. Josh Hutcherson, who went on to be in the Hunger Games films, Shanley Caswell, Parker Bagley and company might seem a bit obtrusive at first, because remember folks, they’re supposed to be in high school. Unless you’re a high school student too, they might be a bit too much (trust me, in my old age, I deal with moments of ‘back in my day…’ syndrome) but sometimes I separate myself from who I am and put myself in a mindset of ‘what would I do if I was still in high school?’ type of way. And it works, with Kahn’s style of filmmaking throwing up texts before most TV shows and movies were doing it, and pop culture and other various things popping up on the screen.
Joseph Kahn made a frenetic and manic film, one that was a perfect start to the Twitter and Facebook generation. It’s also a film that made me kind of like Dane Cook, which I thought would never happen. But it did, and I probably have Kahn to thank for that. Financed mostly by himself, he really put all his energy and love of film and pop culture in this film, a loving nod to slasher films of old but giving it a early 2010’s sheen. It’s a film that I think will continue to grow an audience over time, but I’m just glad to have discovered it early on.
Are there any other films you’d pair with either one of these films? Please let me know because I’d love to do a marathon. Hell, another one that would possibly work is Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes, but I think that film will be mentioned another day with another film. But I won’t say what right now.