‘Happy Death Day’ Repeatedly Misses The Mark

So a very simple premise. Much like 1993’s Groundhog Day and more recently 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, Happy Death Day has a protagonist reliving the same day on repeat. This type of story-telling can be incredibly clever and fun and after seeing the trailer for Happy Death Day, the idea of mixing this premise with the horror/slasher genre had me all sorts of excited.

Much to my dismay Happy Death Day is a muddled film to say the least. Starting off in the vein of Scream, it quickly transitions into a straight-up comedy, including a lively musical montage of the lead actress getting killed over and over. This is just one example showcasing the fact that ‘Happy Death Day’ cannot decide what type of film it wants to be. Given that this is a Blumhouse production it’s fair to assume this film wanted to walk the line blending genres similar to what the studio accomplished with 2017s’ Get Out. Unfortunately it lacks the scares and terror required to make it an effective horror film, and refuses to fully commit to the amount of comedy necessary to be a proper satirical genre comedy. Not to mention the fact that the tonal shifts come out of nowhere, often pulling you right out of the film.

Heres the synopsis for Happy Death Day:

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is a blissfully self-centered collegian who wakes up on her birthday in the bed of a student named Carter (Israel Broussard). As the morning goes on, Tree gets the eerie feeling that she’s experienced the events of this day before. When a masked killer suddenly takes her life in a brutal attack, she once again magically wakes up in Carter’s dorm room unharmed. Now, the frightened young woman must relive the same day over and over until she figures out who murdered her.

The beginning of the film which is essentially just Tree’s death and the first time on repeat, plays out like a typical horror movie. Knowing that solving the murder is key, the film sets you up to examine every friend, teacher and passerby as a potential suspect. But after the initial introduction, many of these characters never get a second glance. Instead they are immediately pushed to the background or used as props for lackluster visual gags. The actual solving of the mystery is completely lost amongst the silly, mild mannered humor that Director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) decides to focus on.

Happy Death Day should be a hilarious and gory frightfest with some fun sci-fi time elements but instead we get a very forgettable and tonally inconsistent movie that just flat out missed its mark. All of the subplots are basically pointless and uninspired, providing a few moments of entertainment here and there but in no way contributing to the actual story. The film takes itself way too seriously taking unnecessary detours to shoe horn in some heavy handed social commentary. Most notably are the scenes focusing on fat shaming or some inconsequential subplot about embracing ones sexuality. These are very serious issues and I suppose the filmmakers should be commended for attempting to shine a light on these matters. In theory these scenes fit in with the overall theme of the movie, but it is all handled so ham fisted and clumsy that it’s hard to take any these moments seriously. These messages come at the sacrifice of the story, which belittles both the message and the themes the movie is trying to convey. It is all incredibly reminiscent of a bad after school special.

I wanted to love this movie based on the premise alone, but its poor execution or lack there of makes Happy Death Day mediocre at best. It’s a shame because when Rothe is actually given a chance to smile, smirk and be more than the screaming girl or stereotypical sorority b*tch, she’s actually very likable and at times even compelling. Overall the film has enough glimmers of inspiration that it is fair to say we can expect better from the filmmakers in the future, but this one is just a bit hard to recommend. I wouldn’t necessarily say Happy Death Day is a complete skip, but it might be best to wait for it to hit Netflix. Given the fact that this movie came out with relatively no competition, I could see Happy Death Day having a strong draw for teens or people just anxious to see a new “horror” film in October. If you fall into that demographic just make sure you know what you are walking into and temper you expectations accordingly.

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