HAPPY DEATH DAY

Is there such thing as a completely original idea anymore? I don’t really think so. Humans have been telling stories ever since we’ve been able to speak, so it’s not a surprise that we run into some familiarities here and there. Every type of story has been done to death, but if you’re creative enough, you can put an interesting spin on it to make it stand out from the mold.

Happy Death Day follows Theresa (Jessica Rothe), mostly known by her dumb nickname Tree, on her birthday. It’s a pretty uneventful birthday as Tree attempts to avoid any human contact, although everybody seems ready to celebrate. Unfortunately, a mysterious masked stranger wants to celebrate a little too much and gives Tree the ultimate birthday gift: death. But then she wakes up and it’s her birthday again. Later on that night, she’s again killed by the same assailant. Then she once again wakes up on her birthday. Realizing there’s a cycle to her untimely birthday demises, she sets out to find out the killer’s identity and break the cycle once and for all.

Yes, it’s literally a slasher version of Groundhog Day and the filmmakers make no bones about it, as evidenced by a horribly shoehorned reference at the very end. That’s not always a bad thing, though. Edge of Tomorrow (also known as Live, Die, Repeat… ugh) was another film that used the time loop premise and it was fantastic. It’s all about how you execute it. Unfortunately, director Christopher B. Landon and screenwriter Scott Lobdell don’t really know how to best handle the premise. Going through a time loop where you’re always brutally murdered at the end of it would have awful effects on your psyche, and they start off having some fun with it by showing Tree get more and more crazed as the day continues to repeat.

It’s too bad this means that the film only gets worse and worse. The first half is actually quite funny, with some great dialogue and delivery, but it never has this attitude of taking the events seriously. Because of this, as the plot developed more and things were being revealed, it got so ludicrous at points that I could no longer tell what I was supposed to be laughing at. The dialogue and attempts at comedy take such a nosedive that it was clear the filmmakers didn’t know where to take Tree’s character near the end. It’s a shame, because lead actress Jessica Rothe is very good and does the best with some of the terrible material. She played the role with a lot of intense fervor and it was fun seeing her grow more hardened as the film went on. She just isn’t serviced by the writing or directing at all, but I don’t think any actor would be able to say some of these lines with any sort of realism.

The filmmakers try to have way too much fun with the premise, and it always clashes with the horror elements, which aren’t really that scary to begin with. The big drop-off point for me was during a montage halfway through where Tree crosses numerous suspects off her list. It’s all edited in a completely comedic fashion to a contemporary pop song and it was at this point where I stopped really caring. Aside from a never resolved or even developed subplot of Tree suffering from her various injuries, I never felt like she was ever in any real danger. She’ll just keep coming back, so what’s the threat, other than an increased runtime for the audience? We have your typical time loop story here, where your characters starts off as a horrible person and learns to change. There are some elements to Tree’s character that are initially interesting, such as the death of her mother who shares the same birthday, but it’s never tied into the grander story in any sort of thematic way. There’s a really nice scene between her and father where they discuss the death of her mother, but it’s the only time the filmmakers felt like getting emotional about it.

Happy Death Day is pretty much the definition of a mixed bag for me. It’s definitely very entertaining and has some decent fun with its premise, but the fun gets old really fast when there’s not much to be invested in. It’s never creepy, scary, or thrilling, which a horror film should at least be at times, even if it’s also a comedy. But was it even a comedy? To be honest, I could sometimes never tell what the filmmakers were going for. It’s funny, because the concept and title sound like a horror film right out of the 80’s, but the entire tone of the project comes off as something clearly aimed for teenagers. While writing this review, Blumhouse Productions announced that they’ve already greenlit a sequel due to the big box office success. Maybe we’ll get some more interesting ideas there, but just like our main character’s dilemma, it’ll probably just be more of the same. 

5/10

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