- Product Rating -

Happy Death Day

| November 7, 2017

Happy Death Day reminds me of 2015’s Unfriended not necessarily in terms of quality, but because I thought both movie’s’ respective trailers were nothing more than Funny or Die sketches. But no, just like Unfriended was real, Happy Death Day is as well. It’s the type of utter stupidity that intrigues me, something that I just have to see because I want to be able to say that I saw it. The filmmakers appear to more or less have the same thoughts on their own material, which is more of a comedy than a horror film. When it fully embraces its stupidity and plays it as a farce, the movie can be a surprising amount of fun. However, that isn’t quite enough of the total runtime in order to warrant a recommendation, given the viewer’s having to sit through lackluster and sloppy horror sequences first.

In a semi-knowingly trashy mixup of Groundhog Day and Scream 2, the movie follows Tree (Jessica Rothe), a sorority sister who wakes up in the dorm room of nice guy Carter (Israel Broussard, The Bling Ring), proceeding to go about her birthday. After going through her routine involving evading on-campus canvassers, continuing an affair with a professor, and going to a party, she’s murdered that night by an unknown person wearing a baby mask—which just so happens to be this college’s mascot. After the lights go out, she wakes up at the beginning of the same day, however, and sets out to discover the identity of her killer alongside Carter, lest she get killed enough times that the physical harm her body endured leads her to die for good. It’s exactly what you would expect and what you would want from something so ridiculous, but it still isn’t quite enough.

When the movie plays everything as a bitchy sorority farce, it has better inklings of what its reach can actually grasp. Rothe lends a surprising amount of charisma to her role, and it’s a pretty solid idea to spend the entire movie with who would end up being an archetypal and quickly disposed-of character in most comparable horror films from which it takes its influences. This scope and tone make for a movie that’s parodical when focusing on its protagonist and broadly satirical when depicting the mean girls around her. These attempts can be pretty hit-or-mess, especially when it attempts to depict anyone other than Tree. When it does dig into the doldrums of repeatedly dying and the growing sense of apathy that it leads to, Happy Death Day is fun and ironic in an accessible manner that knows it audience.

The positives are more icing than cake, though, as true arc of her character feels more like backstory when it’s really the core of the film. Her relationship with her dad and her learning to be less vain stem more from coming-of-age and romantic comedy tropes, but director Christopher B. Landon and writer Scott Lobdell never really make the different genres intersect. The horror elements shoddily move from foreground to background as the plot progresses, back into foreground as act two comes to a close, and completely out of left field by the end of the movie. Again like Scream, there’s a whodunnit aspect to the film, but Happy Death Day doesn’t ever round out its peripheral characters and the resolution to the mystery at hand is both incredibly contrived and sped over that it’s clear that the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to try harder, instead falling back on the “isn’t it silly?!” excuse without enough self-awareness when it’s needed.

Happy Death Day has the markings of an utter failure: It was first announced over a decade ago; it’s PG-13 horror fare; and it relies on a gimmick. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, though, because it isn’t. It can be quite funny at times and it moves along enough to prevent interest from waning. If it simply presented itself as a comedy without any scenes played with any intention of actual fear, it could have sharpened its instances of college satire and fleshed out its forms of genre parody. But hey, Hollywood is often stuck in its own time loop, so it’s only a matter of time until someone else tries their hand at this concept and smooths out the edges—before gleefully impaling it with a piece of a giant bong.

About the Author:

Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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