Critical Viewing: Happy Death Day (2017)

This week, the focus is on characters, with particular regard to the protagonist. I chose to focus on Happy Death Day, a Blumhouse production directed by Christopher Landon. The film is great fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a good sit back and watch it type film where you can just enjoy going along for the ride.

Happy Death Day shares similarities with Ramis’ Groundhog Day (1993) (indeed, there is a direct reference to Groundhog Day in the closing few minutes of the film), in that the protagonist must live the same day over and over again until they find a way out.

Although more violent than Ramis’ film, the protagonists share similar character traits. The main weakness of Happy Death Day‘s protagonist, Tree, is that she has no awareness of how her actions affect those around her. She is rude, arrogant and selfish. Tree must realise the errors of her ways to escape the constant loop of waking up on her birthday only to be brutally murdered by the end of the day, while Bill Murray’s Phil in Groundhog Day has to learn to ‘become a better person’.

Having such a potentially unlikeable character as the protagonist risks alienating the audience, as again, like Groundhog Day, the plot development ‘compensates for a main character who does not engage us empathetically’ (Dancyger, 2013:244). We find ourselves enjoying all the inventive ways in which a character can die. Only when Tree starts to realise the error of her ways and starts becoming a better version of herself do we find ourselves on her side, hoping she finally makes it through the day alive.

DANCYGER, Ken (2013) Alternative Scriptwriting. Burlington: Focal Press.

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