Overview: A young woman must solve her own murder as she relives it repeatedly. Blumhouse Productions; 2017; Rated PG-13; 96 minutes.
The Hook Brings You Back: Any great horror movie needs a satisfying hook. This is necessary for a film to not get lost among the countless other horror entries that come and go every Halloween season. Luckily, Happy Death Day has that buy-in even from the promotional materials. It has been described by many as a horror version of Groundhog Day. Honestly, this was enough to get me in the theater. There are several directions that this film could take with that premise, nearly all of them interesting. Unfortunately, Happy Death Day never comes close to delivering on that initial promise.
I Don’t Like Your Tone: The director, Christopher Landon, is relatively inexperienced, and it shows. Happy Death Day, like the aforementioned dark comedy it is influenced by (and even mentions during the film), attempts to mix tones. It is part horror comedy, part straight up horror. Unfortunately, it never approaches that perfect balance that it needs. There are some decent scares and a few laugh out loud funny moments, but they never come together in a cohesive manner. As the runtime plods along, it becomes more and more frustrating. Frustration continues to mount due to an attempted twist that is so obvious, groans were heard in the audience. The actress saddled with these abrupt shifts and plot mechanics, Jessica Rothe, playing the main character of Tree Gelbman, commits honorably to the sub par material. She goes all in on both the humor and the horror. It’s just a shame that the movie cannot keep up with her.
No One To Care For: The problems begin as the audience is introduced to Tree and the supporting characters. There is not much to hang on to here. Despite Rothe’s impressive performance, her character is incredibly difficult to root for. To solve this major problem, screenwriter Scott Lobdell attempts to shoehorn in emotional plot beats that are not prefaced at any time previous. Additionally, Tree and all of the surrounding characters are generally terrible and the audience may have a difficult time caring if they live or die. This may be unimportant to some who are looking for violence in the horror genre, but it certainly will not stand out from other mediocre titles. Importantly, in any movie with time loops, we need something or someone to care about. Otherwise, we are stuck re-experiencing these moments in a totally disconnected manner. Unless you count our main character’s charisma, there is nothing like that here. Everyone is differing levels of vapid or cruel.
Left With Nothing: Happy Death Day’s saccharine sweet message is not a saving grace. Instead, it may lead to consistent eye rolling. The main romantic subplot involving Tree and Carter (Israel Broussard) never gets off the ground. She is disturbingly cruel when they first meet. And, of course, he is kind and loving to a fault. This again distances us from Tree when we should be drawing closer and caring about her murder mystery. Carter seems designed only to create a change in Tree, and it comes across ham-fisted and unconvincing. The mystery that Tree is set to solve unravels itself long before our main characters realize what is happening. This puts the audience in the unenviable position of being much more aware than the protagonists. As such, impatience reigns over the last act of the film. When Happy Death Day finally ends, the character’s changes, such as they are, are not believable, and it proves that the creators did not understand their core audience.
Overall: Happy Death Day, despite a few well-earned scares, is disappointing. Jessica Rothe’s wonderful screen presence never pulls it out of the mire of standard horror fare. Difficult switches in tone and red herring plot points doom Happy Death Day to failure.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures