Wake up. Die. Repeat. And if you can, try to solve your murder while you’re at it.
The logline for Happy Death Day, a movie by now forever deemed a bloody horror version of Groundhog Day, is pretty straightforward…
Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), the continuously resurrected character in question investigating her own killing(s), leads the unabashed slasher directed by Christopher Landon (writer of 4 Paranormal Activity installments, who thereby knows a thing or 2 about scaring an audience) set on a college campus where everyone is a potential suspect.
To add insult to injury, Tree has been making more enemies than friends during her time at school, whether it’s among her sorority, with boys, or even with her kinky professor, which makes her chances of getting help as thin as the knife’s blade that’s about to cut her to pieces over and over.
The greatest quality of Happy Death Day is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, a key characteristic that suggests the film can be enjoyed without (too much) guilt. Not quite a tour de force, but primarily a smart, entertaining production that succeeds in getting around the classic, tired horror movies clichés, the film turns out to boast more brain than detractors formerly assumed.
Not a disaster, after all.
An Effective Slasher Movie
Although, eventually, Happy Death Day can be considered “largely disposable entertainment that doesn’t suggest obvious franchisability or significant staying power,” it overall manages to be “just clever enough to make a bloody genre look (sort of) new again.”
“Happy to carve out its spot as the horror-themed, millennial-focused Groundhog Day, and to have fun doing so,” Landon’s movie “follows in the footsteps of Get Out by taking familiar elements from the horror genre but delivering the scares with more wit, wisdom and wonder.”
Ultimately “a film with a clear awareness of genre history” and a “swift, spirited, satirical-leaning mood,” Happy Death Day might fall “short of mad inspiration,” but undeniably is “a film that has scary moments” without being “burdened by the endless slaughter that so many horror filmmakers mistakenly use.”
A Lead Actress/Character Full of Life (Ironically)
“A lot of credit for Happy Death Day being worth seeing again and again is the performance” by Jessica Rothe. She has a “very expressive face […] and she’s a small tornado of emotion who keeps the action spinning” – “no blank horror princess.” As much as Landon and writer Scott Lobdell “follow a familiar pattern, they also let their heroine become more than just another final girl.”
Throughout the movie, Rothe’s character “steps up no matter if it means dying or trying.” As a result, “there’s enough to enjoy in Tree’s spirited endeavors, and to distinguish her from usual horror movie victims.” “She’s not just running, hiding and managing to survive, but learning and growing,” and Rothe selling the evolution “seamlessly is a considerable help.”
Best quotes from the reviews:
“Likely to find a sizable post-theatrical audience via streaming.” – Sarah Ward, Screen Daily
“A beautiful blonde who always seems to be wearing the wrong shoes to run away from her killer.” – Rick Bentley, Chicago Tribune
“Groundhog Day dipped in blood.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety
“Doesn’t really grate as much as might be expected, even when the characters are forced to gratefully accept patently obvious life lessons.” – Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter