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Happy Death Day

Do you remember Edge of Tomorrow? I do. The film got buried by Warner Bros.’ incompetence, but I remember it fondly. The basic premise involved a man who kept reliving the same day over and over each time he got killed in some new way. The premise opened itself to all sorts of comical, terrifying, action-packed possibilities, and so the movie worked beautifully on multiple levels.

With this in mind, I was perhaps overly hyped for Happy Death Day, in which a young woman inexplicably named Tree (Jessica Rothe) has to keep reliving her birthday until she figures out who keeps killing her and why. The trailer looked genuinely solid, and I was interested to see where the filmmakers were going with this.

Such a shame the movie turned out to be less than good.

The most obvious problem hits us in the opening scene (the first time Tree wakes up hung over in some stranger’s dorm room) and keeps on going through the very last second (the obvious lampshade reference to Groundhog Day). From literally start to finish, every single character is obnoxious as fuck. Carter (Israel Broussard) is the generic socially awkward everyman, Lori (Ruby Modine) is the best friend who inexplicably puts up with the worst abuse possible, Danielle (Rachel Matthews) is like a sick parody of Mean Girls, and so on. Even in the background, we see fraternity pledges killing themselves for initiation hazing, sorority sisters who proudly starve themselves, and my own personal favorite: A professor who has an extramarital affair with his student. Everything about these characters and their dialogue reads like something out of The Hopeless Screenwriting Hack’s Guide to Writing A College Movie.

Tree herself is probably the worst case in point, as she’s the absolute worst bitch alive at the start of the film. But this, at least, is understandable. It makes sense that our protagonist should start out as awful so that she learns from her mistakes and grows into a more mature person with each repeating day. Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow each did something similar, after all, but those films both did it better. Because, again, the filmmakers here show a comical inability to deliver convincing dialogue or interesting characters.

Moreover, it bears remembering that this is a horror film. In this genre, it’s not always easy to tell whether unlikeable characters is a bug or a feature. God knows it was so much more satisfying when Tree finally got killed for the first time or two. That said, Tree is the only character who dies on a constant basis, and her development arc never really goes anywhere new or compelling. The other characters only die maybe once if that, and because their development arcs constantly reset (by nature of the premise), they never grow into anything past their two-dimensional starting points.

The tone-deaf treatment of college life doesn’t stop with the characters, either. You may already know from the posters and trailers that our slasher wears a smiling baby mask that admittedly looks pretty creepy. However, a crucial plot point is that the masks are highly commonplace, as that particular baby is the college mascot. To repeat: A baby is a college mascot. What the fuck is up with that?

With all of that said, I want to stress that there was definitely potential here. Using the “time loop” premise to explore themes of introspection and getting the most out of every second allowed to us isn’t necessarily anything new, but I think it might actually have been better explored here than in Groundhog Day. Additionally, the big surprise reveal at the end might have been genuinely clever if — again — it wasn’t ruined by the lousy character development.

Something else that sucks is that eventually, the stakes drop by a considerable margin. There’s one fight sequence at the halfway point that holds zero tension because we know that Tree will just start the day over if she dies. Edge of Tomorrow compensated for a similar problem by pivoting toward comedy, and this film makes a similar effort, but the rushed montage of Tree getting repeatedly killed is nowhere near as funny as I had hoped.

Instead, the movie compensates by introducing a genuinely clever idea: Implying that Tree may not actually have infinite lives. As the movie progresses, we start to see evidence that Tree’s various deaths somehow leave behind residual damage, such that she’s progressively weaker with more internal damage at the start of every go-round. It makes the subsequent deaths that much more awful to watch, knowing that there’s a cost to each killing against some indeterminate time limit. The concept is underutilized, but it’s still better than nothing.

But the real cherry on top of all this is the score by Bear McCreary. To be clear, I love Bear McCreary’s work. I’ve been a fan since “Battlestar Galactica” and his contribution was a huge reason of why I was so hyped for this film. What a disappointment. McCreary has always shown a remarkable talent for composing unique and iconic themes for his works, often blending disparate instruments together in new and exotic ways to give each franchise its own distinct sound. And McCreary’s score here could seriously have been copy-pasted from any other film in the oeuvre of producer Jason Blum. Hell, there’s nothing to this movie aside from the premise that looks or feels the least bit unique.

Happy Death Day is a brilliant premise wasted on lackluster execution. There’s no reason this couldn’t have been done without a cast full of obnoxious paper-thin characters or wretched dialogue. The horror and comedy are both uneven at best, when they could have been so much more. And it damn well definitely could’ve been done with an ounce of creativity in the visuals or the music. I want to say that the movie is harmless enough, but the sorority stereotypes are so outdated and misogynist that I can’t even give it that much.

Ultimately, the film is just another brainless and disposable Jason Blum horror film. That doesn’t make it the worst thing in the world, but it sure as hell doesn’t make it worth a recommendation either.

2 Comments

  1. Comment by LukeHighLife:

    Appreciate the honest reviews, saves me wasted hours in the cinema 🙂

  2. Comment by Curiosity Inc.:

    That’s what I’m here for. Thanks for reading!

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