Happy Death Day is directed by Christopher B. Landon, and stars Jessica Rothe and Israel Boussard.
In Happy Death Day, Theresa “Tree” Gelbman is a college sorority girl who has essentially ended up on everyone’s shit list following a drunken night of partying. Following a rough day that starts with her awakening in the bed of a male student, and witnessing what she believes in a prank later in the evening, she is murdered by a masked man… only to wake up and begin reliving the same day again, with similar results. It is up to Tree to discover the mysteries of the day, determining the mastermind behind the killings, so that she can escape the time loop and move on with her life.
It is tough to tell if Happy Death Day was meant to be a straight-up horror movie, or a horror/comedy; there are certainly arguments for both. There are some brutal scenes here, yet some that feel unabashedly funny, and like they belong in a different movie. I cannot say I left the theater loving this film overall, though there were certainly things about it I did enjoy.
If there is one thing that no one can argue about when it comes to Happy Death Day, it is that the film is well cast. Jessica Rothe certainly steals the show as Tree. Her character is a heartless, self-centered bitch, yet one that actually gets some character development as the film goes on; you can’t always say that of a film of this nature. Hell, in a way, her reliving the time loops and progressing as a person is reminiscent of A Christmas Carol. The rest of the cast (though I was admittedly unfamiliar with the majority of them) do their jobs well enough, including Israel Broussard as Carter, the kindly frat boy who Tree awakens in the bed of, starting the film, and each subsequent day.
The whole “time loop/reliving the same day” thing isn’t exactly anything new in cinema, although Happy Death Day does put some interesting spins on it. Characters’ reactions and day-to-day lives feel believable; when Tree tries to tell her friends and acquaintances about what she is going through, their skeptical reactions make sense and feel genuine. Even if the movie is not perfect, it does score some points for trying to combine these elements with the slasher/horror genre.
The biggest issue with the movie, though, is the tonal inconsistencies. The actual killings and violent scenes feel like they belong in a genuine horror film where people die and suffer the consequences. Yet too much of the film features scenes of montages and scatological humor that would not have been out of place in a straight-up comedy. I am puzzled at how to feel about these scenes. On one hand, they make one take the horror and the deaths less seriously, yet on the other hand, they give the movie an identity and a unique voice that separates it from the competition.
There are some clichés and cookie-cutter character stereotypes in this movie (we’ve seen these mean-spirited sorority girls in a million films before) but the end result is fairly entertaining. Not a great film, but worth it for the great performances from Rothe and Boussard, and the flawed-but-intriguing mash-up of genres. I would not rush to the theater to see Happy Death Day, but would recommend it as a rental when it gets a home release.
Rating: Two out of four stars.
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