From the Start
Well, October has come around again, and with it has come a menagerie of horror movies to satisfy our irrational craving for fear. One such movie is Happy Death Day; this film is about a girl that is forced to relive the same day, and subsequently, her murder, over and over again. At first glance, it seems like more of a stereotypical thriller than it does a contemporary horror film, but it received enough publicity that it certainly seemed worth a watch.
With a release date on Friday the 13th, no less, we should rightfully expect some decent thrills as well as some decent chills. The idea of a “time loop” not a concept that hasn’t been done before, but it had a different enough basis that there was room for some unique twists and original content. In this review I am going to look at the writing and aesthetics of the film, and if it meets the horror standards of the season. If you haven’t yet seen it here is your chance to get an idea of what to expect. As usual, don’t worry about any spoilers in this review.
Death, Death and More Death
Without much in the way of a backstory, the movie follows Teresa “Tree” Gelbman as she wakes up on the morning of her birthday, a day we quickly find she has little fondness for. It is also made pretty apparent that she is not the friendliest of people either. As she goes about her day we are introduced to a slew of characters, all with different personalities and connections to the main character, an obvious set up for the following events in which Tree is murdered, only to wake up and relive the same day.
Clearly, the point of all of this is to give Tree enough time to figure out who her killer is and what their motives are for killing her. All is good and well, but a story like this requires a pretty well thought out plot and great attention to detail. Unfortunately, Happy Death Day didn’t really seem to have put much effort into either of these things.
The Death Day Experience
The story was pretty rudimentary, the main character is really the only person in the film worth investing in, and even then she has very little in the way of meaningful interactions outside of a few select scenes that seem disconnected from the rest of the film. Even the romantic interest didn’t seem to have much depth at all. Happy Death Day could have been a unique film exploring the human psyche and adding a new twist to the horror genre. Instead, we didn’t end up with much more than a generic teen television drama with some minor thriller elements.
Most disappointing, though, was the lack of explanation given for why Tree is being forced to live the same day over and over again. Sure, she has some bad memories of past birthdays and it gives her some time to reflect and rethink her life choices, but the movie literally provides no explanation for what is actually causing her to relive that day in particular. It is one of the most glaring plot holes.
Finding out who has been killing her all along is supposed to be a big reveal, leaving the audience astonished. The movie didn’t even really have this going for it either. I will give it credit for a decent twist near the end of the film, but there was so little time spent developing characters other than Tree that, even if you were surprised by the reveal, it is difficult to care. Adding insult to injury, the killer has extremely weak reasoning to justify their actions. In general, the plot was just a mess.
Aesthetically it wasn’t a whole lot better than the plot. It had some overall decent thriller elements as well as a fair amount of drama. There were even parts where they tried to throw in a little comedy. It would have been nice if they had just picked one theme to really emphasize, but they seem to have stretched themselves a bit thin and, rather than just being a fantastic thriller, it ended up just being a mediocre attempt at a few different genres.
Happy Death Day is certainly not the worst film I have seen; It isn’t even the worst horror/thriller film I have seen, but as far as horror films go it does seem to come up disappointingly short. Being one of the first real horror films of the season it certainly doesn’t set the bar very high. Whether you are a horror fan like myself or not, Happy Death Day is sadly, not good for much more than a few hours of somewhat static entertainment.