HAPPY DEATH DAY:
THE GROUNDHOG DAY OF SCARY FILMS WITH A DARKLY HUMOROUS EDGE BUT FALLS VICTIM TO GORE-FREE PG-13 SLASHER FARE!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Apparently, the day you die can also be the day you were born…oh well, Happy Death Day
We’ve seen this concept done to death where a person lives the same day over and over again in an endless loop. From the classic Bill Murray comedy, Groundhog Day to a sci-fi action take with Edge of Tomorrow, and even former Disney Channel star, Christy Carlson Romano made her directorial debut with a Christmas special following the same formula with Christmas All Over Again, the idea is unoriginal but whenever they take a new spin on it, the idea feels fresh.
That’s where Happy Death Day comes in, the latest horror film produced by Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity franchise, Split, Get Out) and directed by Christopher B. Landon (Burning Palms, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). Up until this point I haven’t been the biggest fan of Christopher B. Landon when it came to directing scary films, he directed what I considered the worst Paranormal Activity movie in the series and his 2015 horror-comedy Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse I found obnoxious and lacking the humor its bizarre concept deserved…It must have been his birthday because Happy Death Day was surprisingly kind of fun.
Is it legitimately scary and will keep me up at night? Probably not, it’s mostly self-aware of how over-the-top it’s being and it’s blended with a dark sense of humor. Would I consider it a new horror classic? No but I do consider it a decent scary film and there are some things about the story and takes on these old slasher movie clichés and tropes that are actually pretty unique.
The film follows a college girl named Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe-Mary + Jane, Wolves, La La Land) who isn’t exactly the nicest girl on campus, she’s often rude, snobby, and a lot of people don’t seem to like her…and it just happens to be her birthday. However, just as she’s about to go out for a surprise party her roommate put together, she is murdered by a killer wearing a baby-face mask only to wake up back in her bed on the same day again.
Tree soon realizes that she’s trapped in an endless loop of the same day and the only way to stop it is to find out who her killer is. After death, after death, and after death Tree gets closer and closer to discovering the truth and maybe that person is not who you’d expect.
The film also stars Israel Broussard (Sons of Anarchy, The Bling Ring, Fear the Walking Dead) as Carter Davis, Ruby Modine (Memoria) as Lori, and newcomers, Rachel Matthews and Charles Aitken as Danielle and Gregory.
Overall, Happy Death Day is a very tongue-and-cheek take on the slasher movie genre and the film has fun with its concept and how over-the-top it is. This is not like your Halloween or Texas Chainsaw Massacre slasher films but more along the lines of horror-comedies or self-aware scary films like Gremlins, The Cabin in the Woods, or Krampus where they have a creepy tone but at the same time a humorous touch.
The characters are all college/high school student stereotypes, in fact take out the horror element and this could have been Mean Girls Go to College. You got the mean girls, the tool, the nice guy, and the flawed protagonist, we’ve seen these characters before but here it feels intentional and adds more to the story, not to mention the actors look like they’re enjoying their roles, it’s like what Ice Cube said, “Embrace your Stereotypes!”.
What I really have to give the movie props for is doing the one thing that a lot of modern scary films miss, have me give a crap about the main character(s). I don’t care if Tree’s a rude b*tch this movie makes you root for her and you want her to stop the killer, she’s not there just to die (though she does a lot of dying in this movie) but as she’s uncovering the mystery behind her killer she’s changing as a person along with it, and Jessica Rothe really knocks it out of the park with her performance, it’s like if Bill Murray’s character from Groundhog Day as a college girl (And nobody draw that, please, I beg of you!).
The Groundhog Day references when discussing this movie are pretty much a given but at times it also reminds me a lot of Edge of Tomorrow. Specifically, because of a montage of Tree getting killed over and over set to a pop song, very reminiscent to when Tom Cruise was constantly killed during the alien war in Edge of Tomorrow.
As a whole, I had fun with this movie but I did have a problem with the tone, this is a PG-13 rated slasher movie and we all know what that means, little to no gory deaths. I’m not against PG-13 rated scary movies in general but with a slasher movie that has a body count (Despite being the same person over and over again) they’re fun because they relish in the gory deaths and exploit every bloody moment of them, had this movie gone for an R-rated bloodbath this could have been a new Halloween classic, but as is it’s a decent horror-comedy with an interesting story that’s watered-down to appeal to the 13-year-old mindset.
If you’re under 17 and not allowed to see It this Halloween then Happy Death Day is a fine alternative, it’s got your jump-scares, deaths, and a touch of humor as well as a unique plot. Otherwise It would probably be a better movie to watch during the month where everything is scary.