Jessica Rothe Happy Death Day
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Director: Christopher Landon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Synopsis: Blumhouse (Split, Get Out, Whiplash) produces an original and inventive rewinding thriller in Happy Death Day, in which college student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe, La La Land) relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer's identity.
Tree is a blissfully self-centered co-ed whose world revolves around just one person. When she hazily wakes up on the morning of her birthday in the bed of supposed one-night stand Carter (Israel Broussard, The Bling Ring), she soon discovers that today is anything but ordinary.
Stumbling back to her sorority"and into the expected judgment of roommate Lori (Ruby Modine (TV's Shameless) and house president Danielle (newcomer Rachel Matthews)"Tree rushes through the routine of an average student. But as she experiences everything from the typical activists on the quad to her office-hours fling with professor Gregory (Charles Aitken of TV's The Knick), she can't help but feel that she has seen and lived this day before.
Just when Tree is ready to say goodnight to this bizarre birthday, she is brutally murdered by a masked stranger…only to wake up back in the room of the one person alive who also believes she's experiencing something eerily impossible.
As Tree daily finds herself daily getting closer to her real killer, she must shed her inhibitions in order to face everyone's biggest fear. If she succeeds in unmasking her murderer and stopping this madness, she will hopefully end what has become her personal hell. If she can't, she will be stuck in an insane loop, reliving a ghoulish nightmare that has become her death day.
Happy Death Day
Release Date: October 12th, 2017
About The Production
Groundhog Day Gone Dark: Happy Death Day Finds Inspiration
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 recognise, 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."
Make Every Death Count: Casting the Thriller
The principal cast of Happy Death Day consists of our protagonist, as well as the people she comes across repeatedly throughout her daily journey. As Blumhouse films keep a close eye on production efficiency, it was necessary for the actors to be able to take on that challenge.
For Landon, it was a no brainer to turn to Jessica Rothe for the role of Tree, a character who is in virtually every scene of the film. The director explains: 'Jessica is unbelievable because she had to run the gamut. She had to be the uptight bitch, but then she had to be this vulnerable girl trying to figure out her life. On top of that, she needed to be terrified while being hunted down by an unknown killer…and then she had to be empowered and fight back. Her range is incredible."
Blum was equally thrilled to have Rothe sign on to the project. The producer commends: 'Jessica has auditioned for us a few times before, and we have tried to cast her in other projects. We were extremely lucky she said yes to this one."
Lobdell echoes Blum's praise, noting he worried just who could tackle such a didactic character: 'I do not think anyone thought it was possible to get Tree from the page to the screen until Jessica walked in the door. She handled the horror, the comedy, the toughness, the vulnerability, the resolve and the spontaneity with such aplomb."
Rothe was immediately hooked with the story's ability to capture her imagination and allow her to experience and present such a range of emotions. 'I love when I read scripts that truly pop off the page, capture your emotions and allow you to invest in the lives of the characters. This was one of those scripts for me. The amazing balance of humor, horror, action and heart is something you just do not find often."
The performer reflects on the exact moment she was positive she had to play Tree: 'I knew I had to do this film was when I read the -Tree dies six ways while looking for her killer and living her life like a badass set to upbeat pop music' montage," she laughs. 'This montage is everything that is brilliant about the film. We watch Tree become an active participant in her life instead of a victim, but it is fun"at moments scary"and doesn't take itself too seriously. Tree is a true modern-day scream queen, and her transformation from bitchy victim to badass heroine is one you do not get to see often. I knew that I had to play her, get in her skin, move around and take her out for a spin."
'Our film is unique in the sense that the moments of heart-pounding suspense are sandwiched with humor, everything from biting wit to fart jokes," continues Rothe. 'I have always found that the most effective films are those that utilize the juxtaposition of contrasting emotions to heighten each other."
When Tree is woken up by her cell phone ringing at the beginning of our story, the audience quickly discovers that it is her birthday. She is not thrilled about it being her special day, and is dodging her father's phone calls…for reasons that will soon allow for character sympathy. It quickly becomes clear that she is not a nice person"and one that has many enemies that might be interested in her vanishing. Landon sets up her personality: 'Tree is initially your stereotypical sorority girl. The world that she exists in is all about appearances: She is focused on her looks, her body and her Instagram." He pauses. 'Still, you get a sense that deep down that is not who she truly is."
When bleary-eyed Tree looks around, she finds herself in the dorm room of Carter"having slept in his bed after a night of drinking all the booze. Tree, having no recollection of the night before"and mortified to be in a dorm with someone younger than her"assumes she simply had a one night stand. Desperate to get away from him, she heads for the door to start her looped day. As she keeps waking up in the exact same place on the very same day, she comes to believe that Carter is her only ally.
Landon turned to Israel Broussard to take on the role of Carter, and the filmmaker was equally as thrilled about Carter accepting the part. The performer, who made his feature-film debut in the comedy-drama Flipped, brings to Carter an inexplicable amount of charm and honesty. Of his performance, the director commends: 'Israel is so engaging in the movie because he is the ideal every man"he has this charming quality that makes you love him right away."
Broussard shares a bit about his interpretation of the character, who is equal parts nerdish and dashing: 'Carter does his own thing. He is very independent, but has a good heart. He is different from the fraternity guys and the regular college guys. At the root of it all, he is a sweet person with good intentions."
When Tree wakes up the third, fourth and even fifth time, she realises she is trapped in a horrifying time loop and confides in Carter to help her puzzle this out. Together, they develop a system to unravel the mystery of her murder"in order to put the terrifying ordeal to an end and save Tree's life. Landon elaborates: 'Carter is the only one who believes Tree. He tries to help her solve her own murder, and is also trying to figure out how she got trapped in this situation."
Broussard reflects on how he approached reliving each day, as well as the challenges that come with it: 'Chris set us up mentally for where we needed to be in each moment. For my character, it is the same thing every time. It is truly up to Tree because she is the one having the different experiences. My character's response is different only because of her actions"since she has already lived through the day. At first, I am there simply to say, -Hey, you're up.'"
Reflecting upon our heroine's different behaviors as each day goes on, Broussard says: 'Tree is a wild card. She can be crazy, but you get to see a bunch of different sides to her each day."
Landon gives an example of her blossoming personality: 'There is a scene where Tree and Carter are at a diner, and she burps and farts in front of him because he is going to forget about it anyways. Since she is so buttoned up and worried about what people think of her on the outside, these changes were fun to explore."
To play the role of Lori, Tree's studious and responsible roommate, Landon enlisted actress Ruby Modine. Audiences first learned of Modine following her breakout role on Showtime's critically acclaimed television series Shameless. Modine introduces us to her character: 'Lori is in the sorority and a nursing student, and she is a bit more off-beat than the other girls. Tree is messy and parties a lot; she is always coming home as odd hours of the day. Hence the way Lori always throws at Tree the phrase -She finally rolls in…'."
Rothe appreciates Modine's astute assessment: 'Tree is a total slob, and Lori is a neat freak. Lori aces all of her classes, while Tree is just coasting by. They are ships that pass in the night"roommates who tolerate each other but are no longer close friends."
Actor Charles Aitken, who recently starred in TV's The Knick, was selected for the role of Gregory, the adulterous college professor who charms Tree. She only enrolls in his class because she thinks he is attractive, and they end up having an affair"one of the many scandalous things Tree will admit to during her daily routine. Rothe shares: 'Gregory is married, so the affair is not a good choice on Tree's part. Her decision to get involved with him is in line with her tendency to push boundaries…and truly seeing how far she can take things." She reflects: 'I also think there is a part of her that is self-loathing and feels she deserves to be in pain."
For the role of the harsh and no-nonsense sorority president Danielle, production selected actress Rachel Matthews. Matthews thoroughly enjoyed inhabiting the brutally honest mean girl of Happy Death Day, divulging: 'Danielle was a fun role to play. Tree is definitely her -frenemy.' She is her best friend, but it is a love-hate relationship."
'Danielle and Tree do not trust each other, and they are always taking digs at each other"especially Danielle," Landon expands. 'You can tell that there is a jealousy thing going on there, and that Tree has stolen countless boyfriends or love interests from Danielle. They are always at war with each other, and yet they have to pretend to be best friends."
The ensemble cast was completed by Laura Clifton (Good Night) as Stephanie, Gregory's suspicious wife; Rob Mello (The Magnificent Seven) as Tombs, an accused felon killer and wounded hospital guest; Caleb Spillyards (Evan's Crime) as Tim, one of the many dates Tree blew off; Phi Vu (Pitch Perfect 2) as Carter's mouthy roommate; and Jason Bayle (The Big Short) as David Gelbman, Tree's exhausted father.
University Life and Baby-Mask Killers: Design of Happy Death Day
The production of the thriller took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Landon set up a core team led by production designer Cecele M. De Stefano, cinematographer Toby Oliver, editor Gregory Plotkin, costume designer Meagan McLaughlin Luster and composer Bear McCreary.
De Stefano worked alongside Landon to bring Tree's college experience to life, and they chose Loyola University in New Orleans as the principal location for filming. She explains her process of designing for the feature: 'Loyola ended up being the most film friendly, and our best choice. Since we shot at a real university, we had the bones available to make the college atmosphere authentic. We added our flair where necessary. Specific scenes required specific set décor"like a coffee cart on campus or an outside lunch area"and we added our designated school color scheme to the design when necessary."
Two of the most commonly visited locations in Happy Death Day are Carter's dorm and Tree and Lori's room at their sorority. The filmmakers were sure to design each room to match the personalities of their occupants. They carefully took each character and ran with their back-story to give spaces that defined each student accurately.
Discussing Carter's quarters, De Stefano shares: 'Carter comes from a nice family"his mother raised him to be sensitive, honest and a good human being. He loves comic books and cult-classic movies. He is not ashamed to have photos of him and his mom on his desk. We furnished his room with awesome movie posters and cool band stickers, which Chris was involved in choosing."
When it comes to Tree's room in her well-manicured sorority house, the production designer took a different approach: 'Tree's bohemian chic and carefree style is reflected in her side of her bedroom, while we gave Lori a harsher edge"clean and stark"which reflects her character."
As the same day is repeated over and over again, Landon commissioned cinematographer Oliver to assure each scene and day had a different look. 'Toby and I decided that we wanted to make each day feel different, stylistically speaking," Landon says. 'We started the film with very steady camera moves, but as Tree's time loop evolves, and as she keeps waking up in each new day, the camera work changes. It starts to become shaky and frenetic."
In addition to the movement of the camera, Landon felt that the color and look of the film needed to change as each day went on. He shares: 'The first day things are bright and crisp, as the movie evolves, things start to get darker. There are long shadows, and the movie starts to take on kind of a sickly vibe. The audience is living Tree's nightmare, so I wanted this to mirror her point of view."
On styling the actors, McLaughlin Luster shares: 'Chris and I worked together to come up with what was best for each character. Chris is into fashion, so it was fun to collaborate with him. He had a clear vision, and it was a joy to see him get excited about the clothing. You don't often have that with a director, so that was a plus."
After seeing the rough cut of Happy Death Day, McCreary knew the exact direction he wanted the sound to go. The composer explains: 'I found myself grinning, laughing and gripping my armrest in terror, at all the right moments"I knew I had to be involved. I strove to capture Tree's confidence and swagger. As her day repeats, the music repeats, becoming increasingly discordant, tense and borderline insane."
McCreary stumbled across the sound for Tree's killer in a highly unconventional way: 'I wanted to write an iconic theme for the film's antagonist: the creepy baby-mask killer. I was playing around with digitally manipulated audio snippets of my adorable two-year-old daughter"almost jokingly at first"to find the right approach. I was stunned and horrified at the effectiveness of what was created. The serial killer's music became vocal, alien, innocent and menacing all at once. And it all originates from my little girl playing around in front of a microphone. My daughter is now part creepy baby-mask killer. What madness have I unleashed upon the world?"
Happy Death Day
Release Date: October 12th, 2017