HAPPY DEATH DAY
Groundhog Day Gone Dark
Bending the passage of time has long fascinated storytellers, and the construct
of a time loop proves exceptionally compelling in filmmaking. A plot device in
which hours or days are repeated and re-experienced by the characters, this loop
offers the protagonist some hope of breaking out of the cycle of repetition.
Multiple films across various genres have elegantly pulled it off-from Doug
Liman's Edge of Tomorrow to Richard Curtis' About Time-and Scott Lobdell's
screenplay for Happy Death Day tackles this premise with surprising results.
A veteran of penning unpredictable screenplays such as Disturbia and Paranormal
Activity 2, Christopher Landon moved into the writer/director's chair for
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.
A filmmaker who has long shown a knack for staying away from disposable horror
films, Landon is drawn to stories that hold a mirror up to society and
simultaneously entertain and challenge his audiences.
Once he was presented with Lobdell's story of Happy Death Day, the director
couldn't help but think of a certain 1993 time-loop classic: "When I read the
script, I had the immediate reaction that everybody does: 'This is the
horror-movie version of Groundhog Day! Why has this not been done before?'" he
asks. "That was when the light bulb turned on, because the concept alone was a
slam dunk to me-it was just really clever."
After collaborating on the Paranormal Activity series, Landon again teamed up
with Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions for Happy Death Day. Known for
partnering with imaginative filmmakers, Blum has shepherded two of the biggest
success stories of 2017. His latest projects include the blockbuster Split, from
writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan, which hit No. 1 for three weeks on
the box-office charts; and the Cinderella story of the year: Get Out, from
writer/director/ producer Jordan Peele, which debuted at No. 1 at the box office
and grossed more than $250 million worldwide.
Landon reflects on the challenges of a lead character reliving the same day
repeatedly: "When you have to keep experiencing the same day over and over
again, it is easy to fall into a trap. We establish the day and then we repeat
it, so that the audience and the character understand what is happening. Once we
do those things, we immediately take Tree off course. She starts to try to
outsmart her own death-and in doing so-the story takes the audience to different
places and gives them unexpected experiences."
The director was particularly sold with our heroine. "I always love the idea of
strong characters, and I especially loved Tree's character arc," he offers. "She
starts out as an incredibly unlikeable and selfish person, and it is a joy to
watch her evolve into someone that you come to care and root for. The screenplay
pulled that off."
Known for his innovative work on Marvel Comics' X-Men titles ("Daredevil,"
"Fantastic Four"), Lobdell offers that it was his aim to craft a story in which
the lead had to solve her own murder. The writer explains: "Most teen slasher
movies feature a series of victims being picked off throughout-once you are
terrorized and killed you are never heard from again. I was interested in the
idea of a character who gets to react to her death-one who can stalk her killer
and who is given to opportunity to make the most of the last day of her life."
Through this anti-heroine, Lobdell aimed to find a way in which the audience
could be satisfied with following the adventure of such an unpleasant person.
"Like most horror fans, I noticed the staple where the bad girl dies in the
beginning of the story and the good girl is left to stand alone against the
killer. I was intrigued by the challenge of writing a movie where the bad girl
and the good girl were one and the same. As we get to know Tree, and she gets to
know herself through the horror of her experience, we are caught up in her
struggle-so by the end we cheer her on."
Landon offers that what appealed to him about making this project his next one
is that the story represents equal parts humor and terror: "Our scares are
scares, people definitely jump and scream, but the laughs are big, too. Comedy
and horror, even though they make strange bedfellows, have a lot in common. The
lay-up for a scare is very similar to the lay-up for a joke. If you are able to
find the rhythm where you able to scare and then to make laugh-and continue to
rotate between those two things-it is a lot of fun for the audience."
The filmmaker reflects on the arduous task of bringing two disparate genres
together in one project: "When you can establish relatable characters living in
a credible world that the audience can recognize, that helps a great deal. I am
able to pull off both the scares and the laughs because the audience is invested
in the story."
Blum shares his rationale for wanting to join Landon on this journey: "I have
worked on five movies with Chris, and I completely trust him creatively. He gave
me the script and I liked the idea, but the real reason I did it was because of
my belief in him."
The veteran producer examines the thrilling aspects of the storyline, and just
how they engage: "The audience knows the character is going to get killed, but
you do not know how. Chris gives the audience enough information to be scared,
but not too much. The way the information is doled out makes the movie
terrifying and effective."
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