“Happy Death Day,” a PG-13 slasher movie in which a shallow sorority girl stuck in a time loop gets murdered on repeat, is not nearly as fun or satisfying as the trailers or premise suggest.
And while it borrows that premise from “Groundhog Day,” it doesn’t have much in common; as in, Bill Murray’s 1993 comedy classic is great and this turd stinks.
We’ll just cut right to the chase: “Happy Death Day” is not worth your time or your money, especially when so many good horror movies are streaming on Netflix or Amazon this month as we inch closer to Halloween.
Without doing too much of a deep dive into the plot to avoid spoiling anything or boring you, dear reader, here’s the gist: A bitchy sorority sister named Tree (no, really) wakes up in a nice guy’s dorm room with no memory of how she got there — or what she did with him — on her birthday then proceeds to have a terrible day while being absolutely terrible to just about everyone she encounters before getting murdered by some random masked stranger. But instead of waking up in Heaven (or more likely Hell, given how she treats everyone around her), she’s super confused to find herself in the same dude’s dorm room that she did the ol’ college walk of shame home from previously.
Was it a bad dream? Is she having an extreme case of deja vu? Of course not, she’s stuck in a time loop.
One of the many problems is we never quite find out why or how. In the movie’s defense, however, we never find out why Murray is stuck in a time loop in “Groundhog Day” either, but would have been a nice way for “Death Day” to differentiate itself. Presumably, it’s really just the universe giving this basic bitch an opportunity to redeem herself and become a better person.
By the way, before you go running to Jezebel or any other feminist blogs to tip them off about a misogynistic review, we need to stress that “Happy Death Day” clearly wants the audience to view its heroine as a “bitch,” both through her actions and other characters (as well as herself) literally referring to her as one. So if you’re put off by that description of a female character, don’t shoot the messenger, the filmmakers. Or tell the real-life girls giving sorority sisters a bad reputation to be better people.
On the flip side, the actress that plays Tree, along with the rest of the mostly unknown cast, is pretty much the only saving grace of the movie. Star Jessica Rothe brings enough charm and charisma to the character to make sure we’re rooting for her to stop being such an asshole and figure out who wants her dead.
But unlike other memorable masked slasher movies (“Scream,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Urban Legend”) designed to keep the audience guessing until the very end, the mystery of who wants Tree to eat a knife on her birthday and why isn’t all that interesting. And to cap it off, “Death Day” starts to get old after just the first act. By the middle of the second act, audiences may no longer be as interested in who the killer is so much as when the credits will start rolling. (Pro-tip: If you ignore this review and see this movie, don’t wear a watch, you’ll be stuck checking it fairly often only to be disappointed that more time hasn’t passed.)
We must give credit where credit is due, however. “Death Day” does have a good sense of humor, and it will probably make you chuckle at least a few times. But you shouldn’t pay $15 for a few chuckles. Save your money and browse YouTube or Facebook for cute cat videos instead.
The fact that the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously may be a positive aspect for some, but it’s a risky decision in horror, as it takes away from the suspense and overall sense of atmospheric dread, which is the real reason we’ll fork over $15 — roughly the price of HBO for an entire month — to sit in a dark theater and be scared alongside total strangers. Sure, “Scream” had comic relief, too, but screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven were smart enough to take death seriously so that we cared about who died and genuinely wanted the killer to pay for his crimes.
In “Happy Death Day,” written by Scott Lobdell and directed by Christopher Landon, it’s hard to care about Tree dying because A.) we know she’s coming right back B.) she’s just the worst and C.) there’s a montage of downright goofy death scenes that completely shred any horror credibility. What we’re left with is either a horror movie that isn’t scary or a comedy that isn’t very funny. The movie does try to raise the stakes by adding one new element to the familiar time-loop premise (also popular in made-for-TV Christmas movies, by the way), but it’s kind of just mentioned then forgotten about. So the attempt to put the seemingly invincible protagonist in some type of actual danger has no real impact.
Entertainment is entirely too easy to come by these days and theater tickets are way too expensive, so don’t settle for a mediocre movie that is as shallow as the stuck-up sorority girl it’s murdering.
“Happy Death Day” hits theaters on Friday.
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