The Female Gaze: The Final Girl’s Worst Birthday Ever in ‘Happy Death Day.’

Courtesy of Universal Studios

This deathly version of “Groundhog Day” (1993) drags one girl, Tree, through the worst day of her life over and over again.

Released on Oct. 13, the unluckiest day of the year, “Happy Death Day” (2017) is Christopher B. Landon and Blumhouse’s new horror-comedy about Tree’s (Jessica Rothe) least favorite day of the year: her birthday.

After a long night of drinking, Tree wakes up in the dorm room of younger college boy Carter (Israel Broussard) and has to confront objectifying stares from random boys and slut-shaming preaching from her sorority sisters as she makes the long, hungover trek home.

At the end of her birthday, she gets murdered by a baby-faced masked killer and wakes up in the same dorm room from the night before. She realizes that she is repeating the same day and begins her investigation of her own death.

Tree’s story is live, die, and repeat, making her a new twist on the “Final Girl.”

Coined by film theorist Carol J. Clover, the “Final Girl” trope of the horror genre has been deployed throughout American horror cinema.

She has changed throughout the genre, but the first “Final Girl” was depicted as passive, virginal and “pure” compared to all of her friends who engage in premarital sex, underage drinking,

and drug use. Her friends are killed off one-by-one as she is left to face the killer alone.

In many horror movies, the “Final Girl” has to become more masculinized to fight the killer and win or escape.

Famous “Final Girls” include Marilyn Burns (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), Neve Campbell (“Scream”), Amy Steel (“Friday the 13th, Part 2”), and Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween”), all who brought new dimensions to the role.

Tree is the “Final Girl,” but in her own Groundhog Day experience. Because of her unapologetic attitude towards possessive men, sexual agency, and underage drinking, Tree dies each night in various forms.

She is stabbed, she is shot, and she is blown up by a gasoline leak, each time coming back to life with more clues and connections to solve her murder.

I believe Tree most resembles “Final Girl” Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) in “Scream” because of her resilience and ability to fight against victimization.  

Because she is hunted and killed each night, Tree draws out the “Final Girl” scene throughout the entire film until she finds out who wants her dead. Ultimately, she becomes the “Final Girl.”

As each day repeats itself, Tree reflects on her faults and subsequently changes her behavior to reflect that of a more traditional “good girl.”

She reinforces the exact rhetoric she was originally reprimanded for after waking up from Carter’s bed and walking across a busy campus.

Tree is the ultimate survivor of her repeated death, making her the newest addition to the genre’s “Final Girl” trope.

“Happy Death Day” is now in theaters during Halloween season.

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