A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.
Happy Death Day, directed by Christopher Landon (who previously worked on a lot of The Paranormal Activity films), wears its inspiration on its sleeve. The Universal logo opens and blinks out before restarting three times over — it’s cute at best. Yes! This is a horror movie inspired so very obviously by Groundhog Day.
Jessica Rothe plays Tree Gelbman, a senior or freshman? I’m going to be honest and just admit I find the American schooling system and fraternity system confusing, no matter how many American Pie films I watched — and there are a lot of frat houses and such here. Anyway, Tree goes to school. She awakes on a Monday morning to her phone ringing; she’s in a bed; a guy is in front of her — she does not recognise him. She makes her way to class, and by nightfall sets off to another party, but unfortunately, she doesn’t make it there as she is murdered. After dying, she awakes on a Monday morning to her phone ringing, again, in a room she doesn’t recognise.
If you’ve seen either Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, or Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise, you have seen two better variations on this type of story. In fact, if you’ve seen Scream, or Mean Girls, you’ve also seen two variations on this type of story done better.
The biggest disappointment with Happy Death Day is its lack of scares. I understand it was shooting for a PG-13 rating for the American Halloween period to attract an audience, but a lack of blood and gore shouldn’t have to detract from scares, and you can push that rating if you try. But Happy Death Day thinks it’s building suspense, when it’s really drawing out boredom. Every slow scene of Tree creeping around a room was predictable and a genre cliche. The deaths themselves are boring and uninspired. If you’re going to make a movie where the main character gets killed several times over-and-over, have fun with it, embrace the silliness and have her get killed in some Final Destination-inspired craziness. But no, nine times out of ten, it was stab, stab, stab by the mascot-mask-wearing assailant, who wishes he could be Ghostface from the Scream franchise.
At times, Happy Death Day does feel like two completely different movies. The first half is this serious slasher flick, the second is a more Mean Girls, or Easy A-inspired look at a girl in school, growing up, realising what she can do to be a better person etc. It’s typical and predictable, but a strong performance from Rothe makes these parts of the film fun and enjoyable.