After the success of Die Hard, many film studios wanted to recreate the movie’s formula but in a different setting. Thus, we had Die Hard on a bus (Speed), or on a plane (Air Force One). Happy Death Day, much like the fantastic Edge of Tomorrow, similarly opts to mimic the formula of Groundhog Day explicitly and with great relish. Happy Death Day is a slasher flick reminiscent of Scream, with the iconography of Sorority Row or Mean Girls. Jessica Rothe stars as Theresa “Tree” Gelbman, a young woman trapped in a time loop, cursed to repeat her birthday over and over again, having been murdered at the end of that day. Happy Death Day is a fun romp that balances its comedic tone and thriller elements.
The movie’s plot is so simple it almost writes itself. Tree tries to solve her own murder so she can free herself from the time loop. Along the way we learn about her life and character. The time loop narrative is explored well and to great comedic effect, with Tree getting the better of her peers as the day repeats. Most of the film is spent with Tree as she struggles to figure out who keeps murdering her and why. There’s a nice twist to the film’s story, but I called the murderer from the beginning (I’ve seen way too many movies). The film could have easily devolved into a lazy slasher film or a farce based on its premise, but Happy Death Day merges its genres successfully while skewering superficial sorority life. The killer’s stupid murder mask is barely worth mentioning. This antagonist only serves to ensure that Tree is stuck in the time loop, but does occasionally provide moments of genuine tension in the film.
Jessica Rothe is a pleasant surprise as our lead, Theresa "Tree" Gelbman. At the start of the film, Tree is a stereotypical sorority girl; an obnoxious, entitled, selfish, stuck-up bitch. But over the course of her many lives (and deaths) Tree attains some self-realization and tries to better herself. This may sound corny, but the character conveys a real sense of regret for the decisions she’s made in her life up to this limbo in time, and her actual death experiences change her perspective for the better. Tree’s character growth feels real, and more importantly, it is earned. I also like the fact that she isn’t stupid. Tree doesn’t constantly blunder into being murdered over and over again. Instead, Tree solves her own murder, by drafting suspect lists and investigating them, planning out the day she has lived so many times, and becoming ever more resourceful with the experience of each passing day. When push comes to shove, Tree makes several spirited attempts to fight back rather than just scream and die, which I appreciated.
Happy Death Day is a fun mixture of comedy and horror that won’t blow you away but will definitely delight. Taking the premise of its inspiration, Groundhog Day, and applying it to a slasher film is somehow refreshing, despite the plot devise of time loops becoming a more prevalent dynamic in movies and television today. Grounded by a firm tone that never gets too campy, silly, or serious, and a solid performance from Jessica Rothe, Happy Death Day is a worth a watch. It’s not very scary, but it is clever and fun. There will probably be a lackluster sequel, but at least the original stands on its own.
TLDR: Happy Death Day is a comedy-horror blend of Groundhog Day and Sorority Row, propelled by a strong performance from its lead actress. 3.25/5 Stars