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REVIEW – Happy Death Day

Directed by: Christopher B. Landon
Produced by: Jason Blum
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Edited by: Gregory Plotkin
Cinematography by: Toby Oliver
Music by: Bear McCreary
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Rob Mello, Phi Vu
Year: 2017

 

I originally planned on reviewing far headier stuff this year for Halloween Movie Month, but due to some personal/family circumstances and a general lack of motivation that’s partly resulted from that, I’m choosing instead to focus what little time I have left before the actual day of Halloween with movies that are a bit more lighthearted and easy to digest. At least for now. Considering the fact that the holiday also happens to be my birthday, however, I figured what better time than now to review the recently released and appropriately titled Happy Death Day?

 


 

Is the concept of repeating a certain day over and over, Groundhog Day-style, an overused plot contrivance already? I’m sure there are plenty of examples of TV episodes doing it, or at least doing something similar to it, but I’d be hard pressed to find more than a handful of movies that used the time loop device as their primary driving force. There’s Edge of Tomorrow, of course, and then there’s Run Lola Run, Source Code (sorta…), ARQ, and earlier this year we received 2017’s first film about a young woman repeating a traumatic day in her life with the decidedly more serious Before I Fall. While Wikipedia points me towards a few examples of the time loop being used in a few other films, however, I’m pretty certain that this concept being used in such a particular way, complete with characters fixing mistakes and wrongs, is still mostly known from Groundhog Day, a fact that horror comedy offspring Happy Death Day openly acknowledges, thanks largely to the obligatory meta-commentary all horror comedies are apparently required to integrate into their structure these days.

For most people, a birthday is a time to have fun, but for Theresa “Tree” Gelbman, she’d more readily endure a hangover and the proverbial “walk of shame” from a stranger’s dorm back to her sorority house than celebrate another year gone by in her life. Known for being a queen bitch and for her general lack of shits to give towards anyone other than herself, Tree has largely alienated a number of people who would otherwise care for herself and created a lot of enemies in the process – a fact that she is going to soon regret when she finds herself the victim of a masked killer. In any other slasher movie, Tree would have been the bitchy slut character who picks on the inevitable, virginal final girl before being cathartically bumped off in bloody fashion – but this is, again, a time loop movie, and Tree immediately finds herself waking up in the same strange bed, the same fateful birthday morning, and confronted by all the pressures of being who she is on this day, only to find herself once again being killed by the masked stranger every single time.

You get no points for seeing where all this is going, and as a result, you really also can’t complain much about spoilers, as you know where it’s all going for the most part. Tree begins to figure out what’s happening and ultimately decides to use her unique form of immortality to either figure out a way to survive the night or somehow unmask her assailant, which leads to a lot of fun Spy vs. Spy-style sequences. Along the way, Tree also begins to figure out how her selfish actions have affected people – not the least of them being herself, as she was once a much happier, sweeter person who enjoyed her life and those in it. The reason for her bitterness is expected, a bit contrived, but still effective, and the same can be said for the movie as a whole. It’s by no means revolutionary, but the combination of slasher horror, comedy, and the time loop shenanigans gives it enough spark to overcome its predictability and remain a fun ride, which it is more than happy to be.

Points also go to the actors, particularly Jessica Rothe as Tree. Rothe’s performance is much like the actors who played the Plastics in Mean Girls in that they’re all characters you love to hate but also kind of want to see redeemed because they’re actually all kinda genuinely loveable, too. (Tree does distinguish herself by being a tad more complex character thanks to being thrust into the lead role, of course.) Her relationship with nice guy Carter is also quite charming, but never to an extent that he couldn’t be one of the suspects and have it betray everything that came before, which is also pleasant. It’s not every movie where you hope that they leave the possibility for the romantic interest to be a vicious, vengeful killer, after all.

This is by no means a revelatory film, nor is it destined to be one of the new classics like The Cabin in the Woods was. (It’s nowhere near as funny as that film, either.) It is not among the greater new wave of serious indie horror films, like It Follows, The Babadook, or It Comes At Night. Nor is it a film that aspires to be hilariously trashy, either, like Zombeavers. It’s much more like The Final Girls in that it takes a bunch of familiar elements that have already been analyzed to death elsewhere but still gives it a refreshing coat of paint that you’re more than likely going to enjoy as it lasts. It’s amusing, well made, the acting is solid, and it’s a film that’s really just setting out to entertain audiences, and in that goal, it succeeds.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5

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