Courtesy of Universal Pictures
There’s a bad case of deja vu happening in “Happy Death Day,” the latest micro budget thriller from the Blumhouse factory, and one that’s guaranteed to satisfy those who weren’t quite old enough to buy tickets to last month's offering of “IT.” The premise is just about as easy to gobble up as a killer clown that stalks kids, with director Christopher Landon taking the worn out “Groundhog Day” inspired premise, and remixing it with a “Scream” serial killer narrative. It’s a nifty idea that almost works, except, by the end, I was left with more questions than answers, and an array of classic horror movie tropes that overstay their welcome.
Jessica Rothe plays Tree Gelbman, who is somehow stuck on an insane loop that’s like waking up from an insane dream. At first, Tree is your normal, everyday, college student waking up, after a night of carless binge drinking, unbeknown to her own whereabouts. A classic case of been there and done that. It’s her birthday, and with that brings up it’s own fair share of tragic memories (the film tries to incorporate a sappy melodramatic subplot revolving around Tree’s mother, and I struggled to identify what it did for the film.) The day goes as planned, until a stalker shows up out of nowhere wearing a cupid baby face mask wielding a knife, and after a brief struggle gives our poster child the bloody axe. Tree presumably dies, only to wake up again in the same spot she was that morning.
It’s a vicious circle, and each day she attempts to prepare herself for her killer and always seems to fail. At one point, the film cuts to a montage and tries to make the killings comical. She’s built up her suspect list and is trying to cross them off one by one, but this dastardly slayer is always one step ahead of Tree. You’d think by the third or fourth go around, our victim would shack up inside her room holding nothing by a shotgun ready to blast this person, but she’s persistent on finding the culprit. An aspect of the film I had a tough time believing. It’s like no matter what she does, her killer get’s the job done.
Sadly, the film is PG13 so we don’t actually see any blood. And with as many jabs of the knife into human flesh their is, it made me chuckle. We also tend to get lots of close-ups of Rothe screaming her bloody head off, and while she’s no Jamie Lee Curtis, the case could be made for her “Scream Queen” induction.
When audiences watch horror movies collectively, there’s always the shared common sense, that the characters in these movies aren’t that smart. Here it’s no different, however, since the premise literally revolves around Tree reliving the same day over and over, you’d think she wouldn’t make the same mistakes. After the eighth or ninth death, I lost hope for her character. How do you let yourself be so susceptible to be killed, when you know it’s coming? And when we do find out the killer and the motive, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and cheated. A film with such a crafty tone, decided to settle for a lazy ending. No doubt, a last second twist wasn’t going to change my mind overall, but it tries to invoke some subtle, cheeky, cleverness that I do respect.
For a movie that keeps getting second chances to make horror tropes right, “Happy Death Day” hardly does. Granted, I know this is all cheese, and the movie even goes as far to mention the Bill Murray comedy which was the inspiration. But we never find out the mystery of how someone relives the day over and over. For now, these filmmakers should relive the same day until they can manage a better script with more authentic scares. C