Final Girl Friday: ‘Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe is a Final Girl for our Times

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This month, Decider is going to celebrate Halloween by honoring horror movies, and in particular, the characters who manage to outlast, outsmart, and outrun the baddies: the Final Girls. In the past, we’ve highlighted the iconic “Final Girls.” Characters like Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott; the ones who survived the odds to inspire generations of horror nerds. This time, though, we’re going to look at the modern horror muses who are subverting and reinventing the genre with their performances.

This week’s Final Girl is Jessica Rothe.

NOTE: spoilers for Happy Death Day and Happy Death Day 2U ahead!

THE FINAL GIRL:

Jessica Rothe as Theresa “Tree” Gelbman of the Happy Death Day franchise. A Final Girl for our times.

THE KILLER SHE EVADED:

A combination of jealous rivals and timey-wimey magic. See, the whole conceit of the first Happy Death Day is that an odious sorority girl is murdered on her birthday only to get stuck in a time loop. Tree Gelbman has to relive her birthday and her “death day” over and over until she figures out who is trying to kill her. Spoiler: it was her sorority sister Lori (Ruby Modine), who was livid over the fact Tree was also having an affair with a professor. Happy Death Day 2U expands this concept by playing with science fiction and alternate timelines where the professor and his wife are after Tree.

WHY SHE SLAYS:

Conventional wisdom holds that a Final Girl needs to be a likable, pure-of-heart heroine from the jump. In decades past, she even had to be a virgin, as proof positive of her moral standing. While recent years have relaxed the moral pressure put upon the Final Girl, Tree Gelbman blows them up entirely.

Tree Gelbman is the rare Final Girl who starts the film off as almost a villain. She is cruel, selfish, snide, and carrying on an affair with her married professor. A key part of the plot is that she actually evades Lori’s first attempt at murder — a poisoned cupcake — by hurling the gift into the trash. (She later uses this treat to kill Lori and break out of the time loop.)

However, Tree Gelbman undergoes a moral transformation over the course of Happy Death Day. Throughout her journey of being repeatedly murdered again and again, she also learns how to live. She develops empathy for her fellow students, feelings for her sweet best friend, and a moral code. Ironically, she saves herself only when she becomes the Final Girl. Tree earns her heroic status through self-transformation.



HER BEST MOMENT:

While Rothe’s performance is a darkly comic tour de force, her most “iconic” moment might come in the “What’s Wrong With Being Confident” montage. Realizing that she can use the time loop prison as a tool to investigate possible suspects, she throws caution to the wind and takes advantage of this borrowed time to strut naked through the quad.

However this montage is more than just an eye-popping nude scene. The whole sequence shows a shift in Tree’s persona. She begins to accept folks for who they are, worries over bullies, and finds a different kind of confidence…as seen through her iconic strut.

Where to stream Happy Death Day

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