Happy Death Day
Filmmakers never seem to tire of remaking Groundhog Day with a twist. The newest iteration of the repeat- thesame-day- until- you- get- itright formula is the slasher film Happy Death Day. Blonde and pretty coed Tree (Jessica Rothe) keeps waking up i n some dude’s dorm room, reliving her birthday, and being killed by a mysteriously masked psycho.
No one deserves to be killed this way, but to be fair, Tree is a Grade A bitch; therefore, the kind of karma Hollywood has long deemed to be her kind of character’s fate is being stabbed with a butcher knife. Among numerous people Tree is cruel to, there’s the dorm guy Carter ( Israel Broussard), who kindly gets her Tylenol for her gruelling hangover, the environmentalist student asking for a petition signature whom Tree wordlessly pushes past, her roommate Lori ( Ruby Modine), whose made-from-scratch birthday cupcake Tree throws in the garbage without a second thought. Without fail, every time Tree nears the surprise birthday her sorority sisters have planned, a person wearing a creepy mask resembling the college mascot hunts her down and kills her.
The Groundhog Day premise is f un to watch when the protagonist cleverly experiments breaking the spell. This is why, for example, Edge of Tomorrow, featuring a continuously bruised and humiliated Tom Cruise, is an entertaining and masterful exercise of the genre. But Happy Death Day underestimates the fun in Tree’s experimentation, and gets there too late. Tree needs at least two repetitions before she understands what’s going on, which slows down the narrative pace and bores viewers.
When Tree finally tries a few methods in escaping her killer, only to realize death always manages to catch up to her in one way or another — a somewhat memorable scene involves trying to get arrested so she’ll be safe in police headquarters, only to have the killer blow up a cop car with a gasoline- lit birthday candle — the pace picks up again, but the execution ( no pun intended) of cutesy death scenes like this are slow to fruition and underdeveloped. What is there left for the film to try out next, but suss out the identity of the killer?
Given Tree’s barbed personality, the list of suspects is nigh- high, and a montage of her crossing off each person from the list — including Danielle (Rachel Matthews), the catty Queen Bee of the sorority house — is entertaining to watch, though frustratingly short-lived.
Nearly every narrative element that would make Happy Death Day interesting ends up disappointing. It’s either overtly predetermined, like the cascade of witty one- liners Tree has for each predictable prompt in her day, including Carter’s roommate’s nickname for her, “fine vagine”; or too neat, like the supposedly gruesome deaths the masked killer delivers being little more than PG-13-rated slasher scares; or far too shortlived, like Tree’s quick dash through her suspect list.
Through the process, Tree predictably learns how to become a better person and authentic to other people, i ncluding Carter, whom she realizes didn’t take advantage of her when she was drunk and is a legitimately nice catch. It turns out Tree’s bitchiness is due to her mom’s death from three years ago, little more than a shoehorned sub- plot about her family’s lack of communication in grieving.
What does Happy Death Day get right? Its surprise final twist is admittedly interesting, and the film does try to be original in narrative urgency with the concept that her body is actually accumulating the physical toll of multiple deaths. When it varies Tree’s reactions to her repetitive day — stressed out, clever, weird, nude, determined — the film finally earns its humour points. Happy Death Day is a formulaic and semi-enjoyable iteration of the Groundhog Day formula, but doesn’t even get close to that film’s charm or pathos. ∂∂½
Happy Death Day is the story of college student (Jessica Rothe) who relives the day of her murder until she discovers her killer’s identity.