Happy Death Day
★★★ out of ★★★★
Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) isn’t exactly a model citizen. She swears, parties hard, sleeps around and is generally an awful and inconsiderate person. So when she gets murdered the first time it’s hard to feel bad for her. Notice the use of “first time.” Tree somehow gets trapped in a loop where she relives the same day, always ending with her violent death.
Yes, it’s a concept similar to Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. And like Murray’s character in that film, Tree goes through several stages during her living-the-same-day-over-again phenomenon.
Stage 1: Confusion. At first she’s perplexed, thinking maybe she’s got some intense déjà vu.
Stage 2: Panic. The horror of having to live everyday knowing she’s going to get murdered is a bit much for her. She doesn’t know what to do, and can’t go to anyone for help.
Stage 3: Acceptance. While dying and waking up with throbs and pains sucks, there is something nice in the familiarity. She becomes omniscient and can walk around campus totally nude. If there is no tomorrow then there are no consequences.
Stage 4: Fighting back. Eventually, a person can only get killed so many times before they’ve had enough. Tree decides to solve her own mystery and kill her murderer.
What’s awesome about Happy Death Day is that it takes two unique genres and combines them to make it something completely new. It’s like Groundhog Day meets Scream. Not bad company to be in, eh? And like those two films, there is a surprising amount of humor and self-awareness that gives this film an extra layer of authenticity.
And then there’s Rothe herself who carries this film on her back and delivers extraordinarily. She’s funny and brilliant in a role that’s both mentally and physically taxing. She comes out of relative obscurity and may have just become the next big horror heroine.
Another happy surprise is that Happy Death Day has a message underneath all of the murder. Getting killed and living the same day over and over allows a person to reflect. Tree doesn’t like the person she’s become. She realizes that perhaps her priorities are out of whack and she’s a selfish vapid twit.
Hear that meanies out there? No matter how insufferable you are, you too can change for the better! And if you’re lucky, it won’t take a murderer in a baby mask to make you see the light.
The Good:This film is surprisingly relatable considering its subject matter. It’s hard to not put yourself in the character’s shoes and wonder, “What would I do if I were stuck in that situation?”
The Bad: Maybe it sounds silly but it seems contrived that the mascot for the college Tree attends is a creepy baby. This lends itself to a creepy baby mask worn by the murderer. They could have had the murderer in a creepy mask without tying it to anything.
Final Word: It’s both cliché and unique at the same time. The slasher part is the same as any other. The psycho murderer in a scary mask does scary murderer things. But it’s the journey through the same day over and over again that’s unexpected. And it’s a fun ride.
Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews. Directed by Christopher Landon.
Rated PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, language, some drug material and partial nudity.