'Happy Death Day' Is A Lightweight And Forgettable Slasher With A Tired Gimmick

By James Jay Edwards
Released: October 13, 2017
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A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer's identity.

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Film Review
Happy Death Day begins with a sorority girl named Teresa Gelbman, or "Tree" (Jessica Rothe from La La Land), waking up the morning of her birthday in the dorm room of a dorky guy named Carter Davis (The Bling Ring's Israel Broussard) after a night of drunken antics. Equally embarrassed and hungover, Tree does the walk of shame home and goes on about her day until she is violently murdered later that night. Instead of staying dead, though, Tree wakes up again in Carter's room and lives the day over, again getting killed at the end. This pattern repeats, giving Tree several chances to solve her own murder before it happens.

Happy Death Day, photo courtesy Blumhouse Productions/Universal Pictures 2017.

That setup should sound familiar, because it's exactly like that of Before I Fall from earlier this year, which was basically a young adult retelling of Groundhog Day - and that's not even mentioning the Marlon Wayans comedy Naked from just a couple of months ago which exploits the same concept. The screenplay, written by Scott Lobdell (X-Men: Days of Future Past), borrows heavily, not only from these other time-loop movies, but from slasher films in general. Even the baby mask that the killer wears is reminiscent of those worn by the villains in Valentine, The Hills Run Red, and The Strangers, although a lot less serious (it's actually the mascot of Tree's college).

Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) does his part to keep things interesting, essentially making each "day" into its own short film, with Tree doing different things each time that put her into a new harrowing situation, allowing her to be killed off multiple times. And that's where what little fun that comes with Happy Death Day lies - the multiple "final girl" scenarios in which Tree finds herself are all unique and cool. And Landon does get to do some interesting stuff, like letting the camera get more and more shaky as Tree gets more and more disoriented, and playing with slasher tropes by forcing his antagonist to find new and creative ways to torture and torment his victim (why didn't anyone think of having the killer play with their victim's psyche by stealing their TV remote earlier?).

Happy Death Day, photo courtesy Blumhouse Productions/Universal Pictures 2017.

In many ways, Happy Death Day is the typical horror movie that one would expect to be released on a Friday the 13th. It's a bit light on scares, and it's full of logical inconsistencies (what hospital doesn't have an "in case of emergency" axe mounted on the wall?), but it's entertaining in a purely disposable way. It's worth seeing, but will be forgotten soon enough.
Scary Factor
Happy Death Day has a PG-13 rating, so The Exorcist-style scares aren't expected, but audiences should be treated to...some...scares when they go into a horror flick. There's pretty much only one good scare in the movie, and the rest of them are all vanilla slasher things that horror fans have seen over and over again. To be fair, the repetition factor of the plot makes Happy Death Day predictable by design. But those expecting big time scares from it will be sorely disappointed. The audience can't even take the antagonist seriously because of the silly baby mask. And the fact that Tree can just wake up alive every morning after she's killed means that the stakes are very low. All that just leads to very little audience engagement, and therefore, barely any real scares.

Happy Death Day, photo courtesy Blumhouse Productions/Universal Pictures 2017.

Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date
October 13, 2017
MPAA Rating
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