In Happy Death Day, a college student is forced to relive her birthday over and over again. That sounds nice, except for the fact that she’s always, always, murdered at the end of it. To stop the loop, she’ll have to figure out who is killing her.
Directed by Christopher Landon, Happy Death Day is basically Groundhog Day meets Scream, but we knew that from the trailers. What we didn’t get from the trailers is that the film is a PG-13 take on the material and all of it feels a little too easy and watered down. The result is a perfectly pleasant mystery movie masked as a horror film. It’s not bad while you watch it, but it all kind of falls apart when you start thinking about it.
Jessica Rothe plays Tree, the murder victim/time looper at the center of it all. Tree is both heroic and worth cheering for, but also mildly terrible. It’s no coincidence that by the second time Tree relives her day almost every single person she encounters has a motive to kill her. Langdon and screenwriter Scott Lobdell have designed the movie so that, with each pass through Tree’s Death Day, the mystery becomes more and more focused. So that kept me invested in what I was watching and generally engaged.
Then I realized I’d watched this character get murdered like 8 times and had never once been scared. Never once felt sufficient suspense. Never once been grossed out or surprised. Almost every real staple of a horror movie, save for the masked killer, is basically absent. Which is a bummer because the concept of an unstoppable killer wearing a baby mask who is fated to murder someone sounds pretty damn scary. Happy Death Day doesn’t really lean into this though. As does the suspense of knowing death is coming, but not exactly how or when. Happy Death Day is much more concerned with who done it than how the fascinating scenario is happening.
Once you do actually find out who done it, thankfully, the film doesn’t stop there. It just continues to amp up the story and mystery. However, there’s a major, major speed bump on the way. Before the whole thing comes together, there’s a huge, out of place third act twist that’s eye-rollingly dumb. Thankfully, the film course corrects quickly, but that misstep opens up the conversation about everything else. Once the simplest question is posed, the plot holes just get bigger and bigger. The suspension of disbelief vanishes.
Anytime a film involves any kind of time travel or time loop, the script had better at least suggest a basic explanation for how everything could’ve worked out. Happy Death Day really doesn’t. Instead of having everything make sense, Langdon and Lobdell infuse the film with an energy and momentum that moves so fast, you don’t have time to consider how that object got there, or that person reacted that way. It’s a tactic that works on the surface, as the film is never boring, but it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Happy Death Day is a movie you watch with your friends then put on another movie right after. It’s fine. Entertaining, disposable, and ultimately disappointing, just because it takes such a great concept and generally squanders it.
Happy Death Day is in theaters now.