Movie Review: Happy Death Day

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Movie Review: Happy Death Day

The reverent irreverence of Happy Death Day not only does right by the films it borrows from, it also dares to let a horror movie be fun.

I spent my Birthday watching a movie about a girl who dies over and over on her birthday. I’m sure that says something about me as a person. Directed by a guy who wrote The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (Christopher Landon), and written by the guy who wrote Age of Apocalypse (Scott Lobdell), I was expected something a little more… apocalyptic. Luckily, watching this movie wasn’t a slow, repetitive death sentence. While clearly drawing inspiration from other more notable movies, Happy Death Day retains its own sense of self, and presents a film that I grew to like.

Happy Death Day (2017)

Happy Death Day
“I got you this cake!”
“It says Happy Bitchday.”
“And?”

Tree (Jessica Rothe) is a terrible person, living out her terrible sorority life of being terrible to others. She’s also having a really bad day, one that won’t end.  Someone has taken offense at her offensive behavior, and they have singled out her birthday as the time to put her petty, vindictive ways to a permanent end. Her demise, however, is less than permanent. Tree constantly wakes up on the same morning, with full memory of her grizzly ends. She must find out who wants her dead before being dead sticks.

Buffy the Groundhog Dayer

The obvious trope on display here is straight out of Groundhog Day. Wake up, die, repeat. Bill Murray’s comedy classic about an asshole getting constant karmic comeuppance is the blueprint, but much like Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day does enough to make a new house out of it. Tree has one added wrinkle to her re-spawns that I can’t spoil, but I really liked it as a novel addition to the formula. Rothe also does a great job of being the cad you love to hate… until you get under her skin.

Happy Death Day
Don’t Drive Angry!!!
Happy Death Day
If you were wondering how much of the Buffy vibe is intentional, 9/10ths of the promo pictures have Tree holding a weapon.

In addition Murray’s self absorbed brat, Rothe also channels a certain vampire slayer from the valley. Tree is a mix of Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s movie version -a shallow cheerleader – mixed with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s TV version – plucky and tough. If studio execs are itching to bring back Buffy, and I’m sure they are, they could do much worse then Jessica Rothe in the role. The mix of shallow and smart works in Happy Death Day, and the camp was a welcome release in a film that could have been way too serious and tense.

Speaking of which, if you’re squeamish, don’t worry. Happy Death Day is a lot more Scream then Saw. Coming from Landon, who wrote all 4 Paranormal Activity movies, I was pleasantly surprised. He knows the horror tropes, so he can tweak their nose with a confident hand. I thought Scouts Guide was also a campy, fun time, so it seems that Landon can play a scare for a scream or a laugh. He does both here, and the result is good, if not earth shattering.

Let’s Do The Time Warp Again!

Happy Death Day is a breezy, fun time. The acting is good. They are all playing cliches, but they do it in a way that isn’t too serious or too winking-ly smarmy. The horror is a solid balance of scares, whodunit suspense, and tension-relieving fun. At a sleek hour and a half, Happy Death Day doesn’t stay too long or wear out its welcome. My only gripes are that Tree sometimes misses obvious solutions that would have cut the movie down to about an hour, and the second to last twist was unnecessary and set her character development back a whisker.

Happy Death Day
Oh, one more gripe. The villain is a total doofus.

At the end of the (never-ending) day, however, the strengths of the film outweigh its flaws. I wasn’t expecting anything out of this film, and it upended those expectations. I guess you can’t always judge a movie by its trailer. This film is no Get Out, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get in… to see it.

 

 

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