Happy Death Day, 2017.
Directed by Christopher Landon.
Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Jason Bayle, Phil Vu, and Rob Mello.
A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.
Sitting through Happy Death Day is akin to watching a gamer struggle through a task, dying repeatedly with no consequence until stumbling into that ‘eureka’ moment leading to success. This is even acknowledged when Carter (a college student coming off a night of drunken good times) tells his crush Tree (an ungrateful, misguided birthday girl trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario forcing her to identify and defeat her inevitable murderer) that she has unlimited shots at solving the mystery. The entire point of horror is that it keeps audiences on edge praying for the survival of the protagonists, wondering which sad sack will next meet their maker, and how evil will be vanquished.
Therefore, giving a heroine an infinite amount of attempts sucks away any possible tension to be found during life or death encounters. Why should anyone care if the college mascot cosplayer (which inexplicably is a one-toothed creepy looking baby) kills Tree; the day will restart just like reloading the last checkpoint in a video game. The difference is that games typically punish the player for dying (Grand Theft Auto takes away a percentage of money for example), whereas this film doesn’t care about slapping a wrist for messing up. Every time Tree dies, she awakens with a bit of pain from her previous death, quickly retreating the same events in an alternative path. A doctor even mentions that her body is suffering multiple fatal injuries, only for this to never be brought up again as she continues along, healthy as a horse, investigating why she is a target.
Happy Death Day can’t even maximize the enjoyment that should come from a character, that we know will always be safe, dying over and over thanks to a tame PG-13 direction from Christopher Landon (a co-writer of the Paranormal Activity movies) that ensures each and every kill is a generic, bloodless, stabbing. Generally, it’s a rule of thumb to sometimes root for the serial killers in the genre as they often have creative methods for taking life, but here there is no anticipation. The closest the movie comes to an awesome death is a car explosion, which still isn’t very exciting. Naturally, the result of all this is a seemingly endless amount of jump scares in a vain effort to conjure up a few scares.
That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have its enjoyable moments, as Happy Death Day tends to function acceptably when not taking itself seriously, instead opting for the route of comedic shenanigans (especially with a scathing but depressingly accurate knock on frat party sexual abuse). There’s a montage (although, unfortunately it plays out over some atrocious modern pop music) of Tree stalking various classmates that are aware it’s her birthday (with the help of her newfound friend she comes to the conclusion that the killer must be someone aware of the special day) under absurd circumstances, at one point dressed up in military camouflage gear and equipped with tactical reconnaissance binoculars. Furthermore, the revelations surrounding the identity of the slasher are downright silly, making for a final fight sequence that cements the movie as more of a comedy than anything.
However, the comedy isn’t always intentional, as Happy Death Day is a moment of baffling stupidity. Without spoiling too much, we see a related newscast about an incarcerated psychopath who has apparently been going on a killing spree for quite some time. Obviously, this is tied to the current ongoings, yet no one in the movie ever makes the point to ever bring up that a serial killer has been on the loose. It’s almost as if no one ever watches the news or goes on the Internet around this campus. There are also moments of nauseatingly written realizations of how to live life as a kindhearted human being that goes on forever until the big confrontation. Not to mention, it’s all lazily implemented nonsense, such as family issues and a pointless subplot of Tree fornicating with one of her married professors.
It’s disappointing that Happy Death Day is unable to come up with a successful blueprint for a spin on Groundhog Day, as placing that concept inside of a horror film isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Clearly, what the filmmakers failed to realize is that you can’t coast off one good idea while rounding out the experience with every stupid cliché the horror genre has to offer (including the old tripping and falling during a foot chase trope). They also apparently assume their audience is a bunch of morons, editing in a flashback to the death of a character despite the fact that this person died not even a minute ago. At least it’s an amusing watch, whether the laughs are intended or not.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com