Theresa “Tree” Gelbman wakes up hangover for her birthday, in the room of a classmate she spent the night with, and, after being the biggest bitch on earth throughout the day, she’s lured into a tunnel where she is murdered by a hooded figure wearing a mask of the campus mascot.
However, she wakes the next morning back in Carter’s bed with the previous day’s events repeating themselves. In fact, if you watched any trailer of Happy Death Day, you’d know this is the movie plot and the Groundhog’s Day scenario this flick is based on.
I went into Happy Death Day knowing only one thing: that it would be a horror version of the comedy masterpiece starring Bill Murray. Therefore, in my mind, I imagined two routes the movie could have followed in order to be good.
First, it could have played with audience’s expectations and turn the table on the whole Groundhog’s Day scenario – i.e. making the masked killer have the same “pathology” as Tree (Jessica Rothe). Secondly, the movie might have gone for the campy and self-aware route.
Instead, Happy Death Day doesn’t choose either of them (well, maybe it embraces the second one at points). Christopher Landon’s movie is a straightforward mystery/thriller that uses the gimmick of repeating the same scenario over-and-over again.
Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie and I found myself rather enthralled throughout the entire runtime (smartly kept around 90 minutes).
As I said before, the story isn’t original and the Groundhog’s Day feel is purely a gimmick. The execution, though, is what makes this movie stand out among many conventional, cliched Hollywood factory products that have come out this year.
Although the storyline is repetitive (no shit Sherlock), Landon is able to make every sequence slightly different from the previous one: sometimes that’s achieved through minor changes in the scenario and its development; some other times, that depends on the reactions of our main character, who’s the only one aware of the surreal situation around her.
Major praises need to be given to Jessica Rothe: it took me a while to get into her character – truly annoying at the beginning – but when I finally did it, I could appreciate her diverse emotions. Tree is quite a complex protagonist, played by an actress that succeeds in depicting a various range of emotions. Her co-star, Israel Broussard (Carter), is equally capable and likable in the movie.
Furthermore, Happy Death Day is a well-executed mixture of genres: much like its female lead, the movie combines comedy, drama, mystery and (a tiny bit of) horror. Yet, it’s one of the few horror flicks that works with a PG-13 rating: it doesn’t need any gore, violence, mature themes or subtext to be effective.
Nevertheless, Landon’s movie is far from being perfect. Editing and camera-work are rather unconventional (thumbs up), but sometimes feel a bit off and fail to capture the overall feeling of the movie.
Also, the ending, the final twist if you will, is rather cheesy and, let’s face it, stupid! However, that doesn’t ruin the movie because it makes sense within the quirkiness of Happy Death Day, thus it doesn’t betray the tone of the film itself.
My biggest issue, though, regards some distracting horror tropes utilised in many sequences (especially in the first act of the movie, the weakest one in my opinion). For instance, who played the music box in the dark tunnel at the beginning of the movie? How does the masked killer appear out of the blue in the most awkward situations? Does he or she have superpowers? How does he or she know where Tree is every damn single time? Just to name a few questions that can’t be answered!
These inconsistencies took me out of the movie quite a few times and made me realise that Christopher Landon, who has previously directed three Paranormal Activity flicks, is obviously not used to thinking about sequences that make sense!
In conclusion, Happy Death Day is not an easy movie to recommend, but I personally had fun watching it; never once was I bored; I felt emotionally attached to the character of Tree. However, there are flaws (some tiny, some more serious) that scale it down from being one of the surprises of 2017, in my opinion. I’d still watch it again if I get the chance, though. Cheers!