TL;DR – A surprising solid film, even if it is just Groundhog Day with murder
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
What if at the end of the night you were murdered, but the next day you woke up at the start of the day again, destined to live your life out, day after day after day, each night murdered by the same masked killer. Now, of course, you might be going, ‘isn’t that just Groundhog Day with murder’ and you would be correct, Happy Death Day joins a long list of films/TV Shows using the same narrative device. Now is it as good as Groundhog Day, no, it’s not even the best redo of this narrative device, that would go to the Stargate SG1 episode Window of Opportunity. However, it is still a good film, mostly because you can see some real effort has gone into the production, that plus the entertaining cast and some unexpected emotional themes make Happy Death Day a really good film.
So to set the scene, Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on a Monday morning in the unfamiliar dorm room of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). It’s her birthday, hence the title of the film, and we spend a day with her to discover that she is really not a nice person at all. Well after the end of the day when we discover that she is sleeping with her married professor Gregory Butler (Charles Aitken), ignoring her lunch appointment with her father, and dumping the birthday cupcake from her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) on the floor. Well on the way to a party on campus she stumbles across a music box in a tunnel, then suddenly the killer appears, and Tree is dead in the first ten minutes of the film. Only nope, she wakes up in that same dorm room again and starts to live the day all over again. However, now she has a plan, and that is to find out who is killing her, because she has unlimited days to find out, or does she? So, in essence, Happy Death Day is like a cross between Groundhog Day, Scream, and a Michael Crichton novel, and it all kind of works.
So the story is nothing new, but it is elevated by the cast and crew through their amazing talent. One way we see this is in the framing and lighting in the movie. Every scene felt like it was framed with a purpose in mind. It is such a small thing, but it really increased the overall quality of the film, and it is not something that always happens in this genre. We also see that in Bear McCreary’s musical score for the film. At first, I kind of felt that it was leaning heavily on a sort of clichéd sound you here in a lot of horror films. However, as the film goes on the score sucks you into the world of endless loops, and that musical theme, whenever the mask comes on screen immediately increased the tension.
While I said the story was nothing new, that doesn’t mean it was bad, just that it is exploring the well-covered terrain, however, it does do some interesting things with its characters. Firstly, the characters are all smart, which is not something you see every film … even films about scientists, yes I’m talking about you Alien Covenant (see review). Tree at the start acts like a normal person would when presented with someone wearing a School mask. But when she realises she is being killed she does the smart thing and locks herself in her room, and when that does not work she tries to hunt down the killer. We also see that with Carter, how after being presented with clear information that a loop is happening, just goes with it because it makes sense. In many respects, it is similar to the fabulous Get Out (see review) in that regard, and it is so refreshing to see. Now from here, we will be talking about the characters, and also the ending of the film, so obviously there will be [SPOILERS] ahead.
Another highlight for me was the arcs of the characters that we saw throughout the film. Tree at the start of the film is a really unlikable person, thinking mostly about herself and not the effects she has on the people around her, of course, it does help that she is surrounded by some really unpleasant people in her sorority. However, over the course of the film, we see what drives her, and how she had used that loss to excuse her behaviour. So she starts to see the world she lives in and is a part of, and it changes her for the better as she is able to confront parts of her life that she didn’t like. As well as this, it was good to see Carter, was an actual good person, who was willing to sacrifice himself to save someone else’s life.
Final warning that we are about to discuss the ending of the film if you have not seen it skip to the next paragraph because of [SPOILERS]. One thing I do want to talk about is the ending because from my conversations with people it is quite polarising. So throughout the film, there is a lot of bait and switch as to who is the murderer, and just when Tree thinks she has worked everything out, and it all over, nope. In the end, the killer was her roommate, and why was she was killing her, well it was for a completely petty issue. I found this to be actually a brilliant twist, because firstly when you look back there are a lot of clues that it is her, but also it fits the characters. Though we did never get any explanation why she was stuck in a time loop.
In the end, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was really surprised by the quality of the film, and yes I know that sounds condescending, but to be honest I really was not expecting much. It is an old saying but you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that is Happy Death Day. The movie has an appearance of a cookie cutter horror film, but it is so much more. It has been a good year for Blumhouse Productions, and I’m kind of interested to see where they go from here.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Happy Death Day
Directed by – Christopher B. Landon
Written by – Scott Lobdell
Music by – Bear McCreary
Cinematography by – Toby Oliver
Edited by – Gregory Plotkin
Starring – Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, Charles Aitken, Rob Mello, Phi Vu, Caleb Spillyards, Jason Bayle, Laura Clifton & Cariella Smith
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 15; United States: PG-13