Happy Death Day
Aida Vucic | 12/10/2017
Dubbed as the murderous remake of the beloved Groundhog Day, and fittingly released just in time for Halloween, Happy Death Day neither meets the heights of the earlier films that haunt it, nor the horror elements of its genre.
The film begins with the ringing of an alarm, to which Tree, our heroine (played by Jessica Rothe), wakes up in an unknown dorm room across from an unfamiliar guy, Carter (Israel Broussard). She beelines out of there as fast as she can, returning to her sorority house to be greeted by her twofaced BFFs. Still recovering from a hangover after last night's fiasco, Tree’s day only gets worse - having chocolate milk spilt on her and proceeding to be humiliated in front of her friends by being associated with Carter. It's also her birthday, although she isn't one to celebrate the occasion. Nevertheless, her sorority insists on her presence at a frat party, and in her journey to the party house, she stumbles upon an eerie music player in an otherwise empty tunnel. Confused, she is confronted by a mask wearing maniac who takes her life with an excessively large knife. In true Groundhog Day fashion, Tree wakes to the same familiar tone on her phone in the same unfamiliar room and to the same day, shocked she is still alive. With the help of Carter, Tree attempts to solve her own murder, forging an unexpected romance with him and learning more about herself in the process.
After Blumhouse’s success with Whiplash, Get Out and Spilt, our expectation was high in respect to their newest edition. As with their previous productions, there was a consistent formulaic combination of small budget and interesting premise. It’s a shame, then, that the film didn’t quite achieve the heights of it's production company's predecessor stories. While the story itself is vaguely interesting, continually dying until you solve your own murder, the depiction of the tale lacked mystery. The film gives audiences a suspect list very quickly, and foreshadows the eventual villain in such a way that it is remarkably easy to guess. While the filmmakers should be given kudos for having us follow Tree on a wild goose chase that provides an excellent curve ball towards the end of the picture, the mystery felt half-hidden; like a half-wrapped gift that has been hidden under a number of other gifts to compensate for it's wrapping, it still felt like the eventual surprise was half-assed.
But ultimately the films weakness is in its poor character development. From brief conversations we learn that Tree lost her mother a few years prior. She also shared her birthday with her mother and since her passing had been on a path of self-destruction, surrounding herself with a sorority group whose mission statement is maintaining a below average BMI, looking hot at all times and engaging in sexual relations whilst simultaneously not appearing to be a girl who puts out. The time loop provides a perfect opportunity for Tree to consider her poor decisions and seek redemption. It's just a shame that it doesn’t feel genuine; Rothe plays the character with none of the nuance of a more experienced actor, and the cliché riddled script leaves any interest in the redemption of this generally uninteresting protagonist to be found wanting.
To Christopher Landon’s credit, Happy Death Day, with a runtime of just over 90 minutes, eschews any dragging moments. It's compact nature means that there isn't really ever a dull moment, and while some montages come across as cringe-worthy, and its PG-13 rating results in horror elements that are more comedic than truly fear-inducing, for the most part the film ticks along nicely, taking you from jump scare to jump scare with some genuinely funny moments in between.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag, but there are some strong performances from Israel Broussard as Carter and Rachel Matthews as Danielle.
Late in the piece, Carter refers to Bill Murray and Groundhog Day, a film with clear influences on this college-set horror comedy. It reminds you of movies with better performances, better scripts and better scares, but for the most part Happy Death Day is a bumpy ride that leaves us with a distinctly average picture.