Why ‘Happy Death Day’s Tree is The Perfect Final Girl for Our Now
One of the hardest things to do in life is getting back up when life keeps knockin’ ya down. We’re living in a time dubbed “the darkest timeline”. An era when “goblin mode” has become a term to describe the way people are living just to cope. Every day feels like Monday the 18th, so this Women in Horror Month, let’s raise a glass to horror’s own goblin mode heroine, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) from Happy Death Day.
A delectable cake of a film baked with Scott Lobdell’s witty writing and Christopher Landon’s punchy direction, Happy Death Day was dismissed by fans because it was a slasher with a, gasp, PG-13 rating. The horror! Yet upon release, the film sliced through that unfair criticism with positive word of mouth. Happy Death Day wasn’t just a complete and utter riot, but there was something different about its “Final Girl”. Tree didn’t stand on this impossible-to-reach pedestal of moral perfection. She was riddled with flaws like the rest of us. She was real. And she still kicked ass. Eventually…
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A clever play on 1993’s Groundhog Day with a horror twist, Happy Death Day sees Tree forced to relive her birthday on a loop while stalked by a killer donning a dreadful baby mask. Until Tree can uncover who’s after her, her death is stuck on repeat. It’s a tough task because she has a mile-long list of suspects that would applaud her demise.
Tree’s unflattering introduction reveals someone who is the polar opposite of the “Final Girls” of old. She guzzles Tylenol like a hangover-pro after waking up in his bed and belittling nice guy Carter (Israel Broussard). She mocks fellow Kappa girl Becky (Cariella Smith) for eating a carb-loaded breakfast. Plus, she tosses out the birthday cupcake whipped up by her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) right in front of her. Tree is selfish. She’s crass. She might as well be three raccoons in a trench coat.
“What? Nobody’s perfect.”
That’s just it, though. Tree is relatable because she’s imperfect. Fans admire the formidable strength of women like Nancy, Sidney, or Laurie. But Tree has roots in who we are every day. Mistakes are her middle name. Arbitrary rules like “sex equals death” would have 80s slashers cut Tree down somewhere in the second act. Most like to think we’d be the stone-cold fighter who outwits the masked maniac. But the truth is we’d be more like Tree, tripping over air during our first encounter with the killer. Few of us live up to the high moral standards of your typical slasher. And Tree? She breaks every horror movie commandment there is. She’d have Scream’s Randy screeching at the top of his lungs about “rules”.
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Tree doesn’t sprint headfirst to take on her killer, either. She avoids her problems by barricading herself in her room. The killer’s infantile mask is a stark reflection of the feeble piece of us that’s petrified in the face of responsibility, or worse, failure. It’s hard to admit, but our issues don’t burst into smoke just because we turn away.
Yet despite her shortcomings, Tree. Keeps. On. Fighting.
Tree is the indestructible specter of a slasher villain’s nightmares. You can stab her. You can drown her. Hell, you can even blow her up. But she’s like that Chumbawamba song. You are never going to keep her down. Her tale is about accepting that you don’t have to succeed with every attempt. Each failure bequeaths a lesson learned that allows her to survive a little longer the next time. Agonizing over perfection and getting it right on the first attempt is what leaves us frozen in our tracks.
Tree is horror’s defiant middle finger to the very idea of “perfection”.
The weight of our issues feels insurmountable right now. Tree is a constant reminder that it’s okay if we lose today, as long as we try again tomorrow. She isn’t perfect, but she is the perfect horror hero for the moment. Consider Tree the next time you’re too overwhelmed to get out of bed, belching and farting in front of Carter and being damn proud of who she is, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Good for her. Good for all of us. That’s the kind of strength fans deserve to see more of.
We can’t go back in time. We don’t get do-overs. But like Tree, we can always keep trying.
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