As a big fan of 1993’s Groundhog Day and more recently 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, I know how clever and fun these time loop films can be, and after seeing the trailer for Happy Death Day, the idea of mixing that particular storytelling convention with the horror/slasher genre had me all sorts of excited. Directed by Christopher Landon and written by notable comic book writer Scott Lobdell, Happy Death Day centers around the character of Tree Gelbman, a conceited and obnoxiously cruel college girl with a noticeable chip on her shoulder. After being brutally stabbed by a masked maniac, Tree is forced to relive her last day, which coincidently is also her birthday, until she can survive her brutal killer’s wrath and unravel the mystery of who wants her dead. The problem with this film is that where Groundhog Day perfectly balanced its comedy with the drama of Bill Murray’s character trying to become a better person while suffering through his predicament, and Edge of Tomorrow played off the action and suspense with a healthy dose of humor and sarcasm, Happy Death Day cannot decide what kind of film it wants to be. It lacks the amount of comedy to be a proper horror comedy, and it lacks the scares and terror necessary to make it an effective horror film.
“…Happy Death Day cannot decide what kind of film it wants to be.”
Tree Gelman (played by actress Jessica Rothe) is an utterly despicable character when we first meet her. I legitimately felt anger towards the way she treated others, and it wasn’t even in a fun bitchy way that would make me sardonically root for the Killer. I thought Tree was so detestable and unlikable that I felt like she was completely ruining the movie for me. I have to give credit where credit is due though; Jessica Rothe had me turned around by the film’s end. Through the character’s journey, especially when Rothe really goes full-blown Bill Murray in one stellar scene, I felt like she was redeeming herself completely. Maybe the film would have been a bit better if her character was slightly less mean-spirited, to begin with, but by the end of the film I really was rooting for her, and even sympathizing with her. We have her love interest, Carter (played by Israel Broussard), as the one guy she’s able to convince consistently about her predicament. He convinces her to use her multiple lives in order to check names off her long list of suspects, resulting in a fun little montage of carnage and creative deaths. This is really the film’s first sign that it’s supposed embracing comedic elements because everything up to this point has been played way too seriously. Another thing that makes the film stand out from the similarly premised films this will no doubt draw comparisons from is that every time she wakes up, she feels weaker and her wounds follow her after restarting her day. It’s hinted that her loop does have its limits. I also appreciate that we don’t get an explanation as to why this is happening to her, it’s absolutely not necessary. I think the Killer’s mask looked stupid and in no way terrifying or creepy, which really makes it crazy how hard this film tries to take itself seriously early on before the previously mentioned death montage. I didn’t recognize literally anyone in the cast, but everyone played their parts well. There were no standouts aside from Rothe, who I think has the potential to be a huge star, but the film stays focused on its main character and we don’t really get to know anybody else.
“…a wildly forgettable and tonally inconsistent movie that won’t completely please horror fans or a mainstream audience.”
Happy Death Day deserved to be a hilarious and gory frightfest with a sci-fi twist, but instead, we get a wildly forgettable and tonally inconsistent movie that won’t completely please horror fans or a mainstream audience. It misses the mark, and were it not for Jessica Rothe’s (eventual) likability, this film could be written off as a total disaster. There are subplots that are pointless and dull, the film takes itself way too seriously until it’s way too late, the gore is PG-13, and the mystery surrounding the Killer and their motives is unbelievably stupid. I wanted to love this movie based on its strong premise alone, but its poor execution makes it fairly mediocre. I wouldn’t skip it, necessarily, but maybe it’d be best to wait to for it to come out on Netflix or Redbox or something.
Happy Death Day (2017) Directed by: Christopher Landon. Written by: Scott Lobdell. Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Jason Bayle, Charles Aitken, Rachel Matthews.
7 out of 10