Not a happy day if one sees ‘Happy Death Day’

Tony Gardner, the man who designed the Ghostface mask for the “Scream” series, designed the mask for “Happy Death Day.” (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Owen Johnson
Connector Editor

“Happy Death Day” is a horror movie that was released by Blumhouse Productions. Among Blumhouse’s other horror works includes the “Paranormal Activity” movies, the “Ouija” movies and “The Purge” movies. If that is enough information to help figure out the quality of “Happy Death Day,” feel free to stop reading here.

On her birthday, sorority sister Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is attacked and murdered. After she is murdered, Tree awakens in the same spot she had awoken that exact morning. As she lives through the same day over and over again, Tree sets out to figure out who her killer is so that the day will stop repeating.

Many movies have copied the repeating day plotline of the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day,” but “Happy Death Day” takes it to a new extreme. The day is not just repeating, but the main character has a similar character and similar character arc, the romance in it has similar traits to it, the repeating day is a non-holiday holiday and the inability to decide on tone is characteristic of both films.

“Happy Death Day” has all of the problems of a repeating day-premised story and all of the problems of a horror movie.

There is absolutely no reason that the day should be repeating itself, and seeing the exact same imagery again and again becomes tedious and annoying once the audience has been forced to sit through it enough times.

Tree is a typical horror movie character: she makes dumb decisions that ultimately keep getting her killed, which is even more annoying to watch than in a normal horror movie because her multiple lives gives her ample opportunity to think of a plan that is not idiotic. It also relies heavily on jump scares and the killer doing impossible things to make the film scary.

The tone fluctuation is the most jarring aspect about the whole movie. The premise of a killer going after a girl and her continuously waking up after she has been murdered sounds like it should be scary and suspenseful. Some scenes are played like that, but other parts are written as if for a comedy.

For example, once it is established that Tree has infinite lives to figure out who her killer is, a comical montage starts. In one of the montage clips, she goes stalking after a suspect with dyed hot pink hair, a camouflage painted face and camouflage attire. The fluctuation of tones is not annoying, but they are never melded together and ultimately make a movie that is confused about what it is trying to be.

The biggest problem is easily the killer, and not just because they have horror movie villain powers where they seem able to be wherever they are needed or do whatever they need to for a kill or a scare, but because their plan makes no sense. The plan makes so little sense that once the killer is stopped, a side character actually has an entire speech dedicated to how illogical the plan was.

To the movie’s credit, there were some praiseworthy aspects. Even if it is a rip off of Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day,” Tree does have a good character arc. Even with a repeating day, the writer did work in a way for there to be stakes to the situation. While Rothe’s acting was not always the best in the horror scenes, she was able to pull off a genuinely emotional performance in what is arguably the movie’s most important scene.

There are a number of other good ideas that the movie has, but unfortunately does not deliver on. Or, even worse, it seems to ignore the potential it has set up for itself. For example, using the “Groundhog Day” premise in a murder mystery is an interesting idea. However, the only investigative parts of the movie are glossed over in a comical montage. Then there are the stakes that actually make the story have tension to it, but the stakes are all ignored in the final confrontation with the killer.

There is a saying out there that something is better than it has any right to be. Well, “Happy Death Day” is worse than it has any right to be. At worst it should have been a generic horror movie version of “Groundhog Day,” and it was much worse.

Final Grade: D-

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