Did the film “Groundhog Day” start a genre? With films like “Edge of Tomorrow” and now “Happy Death Day,” it’s starting to seem so.
The latter was just released this past weekend and follows the story of Theresa (Jessica Rothe), who goes by the nickname Tree. A college student and a sorority member, Tree is a very much a partier and enjoys living life rather promiscuously.
Her life comes to a screeching halt, though, when she’s murdered on campus on the night of her birthday. However, instead of dying, Tree wakes up on the morning of her birthday and relives it all over until she’s once again murdered. After waking up again on that same morning, it becomes apparent to her that she’s reliving the same day and sets out to solve her own murder.
As previously stated, the film takes the premise made popular by “Groundhog Day” and the movie’s characters even make a point to discuss that classic. That premise, though, is a fun one and just like how “Edge of Tomorrow” from 2014 used it to create a good action sci-fi, “Happy Death Day” utilizes it to make a fun horror comedy.
The movie goes through the motions of having its lead character become more accustomed to the day she’s reliving, and it does so with some solid self-aware humor about the situation she’s in. In fact, this aspect is what really gives the movie most of its strengths.
Watching Tree become an expert on everything that’s going to happen on the day she’s reliving is fun to watch and seeing the character develop is an interesting process. Additionally, the film does just enough with balancing hints and twists to keep a person questioning who the killer really is. This is true to the point where those aspects easily surpasses the movie’s horror/slasher element.
The reason the latter element falls so far behind isn’t because there’s no good set up. Some of the moments that are supposed to be scary do have a fairly creepy atmosphere. However, when it comes to the actual slasher portion, the movie has nothing to offer. Because of its PG-13 rating, none of the kills are actually shown in detail, making the film too bloodless for a good slasher.
If the movie had an R-rating and showed more of the horror elements, it would have been far superior. It’s not that I necessarily wanted a gore fest, and some slasher movies pull off not explicitly showing the kills as a way to up the fear factor. However, since this did lean toward horror comedy, having an R-rating to add more blood would’ve made more sense.
With that said, the movie is still mostly good and this is largely thanks to Rothe who gives a fantastic performance as the lead character. As she goes through her Birthday over and over again, Tree has moments of sadness, humor and fear, with Rothe delivering all of this very well. She’s convincing from start to finish and because the movie centers on her so much, she ends up having to carry most of the scenes, which she pulls off.
“Happy Death Day” could’ve been scarier and it wasn’t as stylized as other recent horror pictures such as “It Follows.” However, it’s still a fun twist on the “Groundhog Day” concept with a great lead performance, some creepy moments and good humor. 3.9 out of 5.