featured Film Review

'Happy Death Day' Film Review: Oddly enjoyable, despite its flaws

October 13, 2017Ferdosa Abdi

What does one do when they find themselves reliving the last day of their life, which coincidentally also happens to be their birthday? College student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) finds out for herself when she's plunged into this Groundhog Day scenario. Suddenly, what ought to have been an average day in the life of a self-destructive young adult becomes a living nightmare of being repeatedly murdered by a crazed killer in a creepy baby mask.

The premise is simple: decipher the mystery of who the killer is, and Tree's nightmare ends, otherwise, she's doomed to relive her death over and over again. A sorority girl who possesses all the negative qualities the label entails, Tree is vain, rude, body image-conscious, and, to put it simply, a grade-A bitch. Yet, Rothe manages to do the near-impossible and make such an unlikable character tolerable. Game for whatever the story asks of her, she carries this rather simplistic and laughable premise with ease, earning herself a spot among the genre's legendary scream queens in the process.

Director Christopher Landon and screenwriter Scott Lobdell, on the other hand, try to create a compelling mystery, but fail to hit the mark. In fact, not only does the conundrum of the killer's identity fall short of expectations, but the film itself fails to go for the jugular when it comes to the kills. Tree has the misfortune of dying in various horrific manners, while the audience has the misfortune of watching a slasher flick that shies away from graphic violence. And to top it all off, the movie is not entirely that interesting, relying on the occasional jump scare to get viewers' hearts pumping instead of delivering anything genuinely frightening.

Suffice to say, without Rothe's performance and her ability to convey Tree's internal struggle to better herself throughout the story, the film would be a tedious chore to get through. That said, Happy Death Day works best when it does focus on Tree's journey of self-discovery, unraveling her past as she learns more about herself and comes to terms with the trauma that turned her into the cold-hearted girl we meet at the beginning. Unfortunately, that won’t be what audiences are expecting going into the movie, nor is it what the film's marketing promises.

Ultimately, Happy Death Day is neither frightening enough nor gory enough to be considered among the ranks of slasher/horror classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. Yet, despite playing out like a feature-length episode of Pretty Little Liars — or any other teen drama, for that matter — the result still manages to be oddly enjoyable. Yes, the premise is laughable, and the majority of viewers won’t likely remember the film after seeing it, but by no means is Happy Death Day a complete waste of time.

On the contrary, Landon aids the film with very some competent filmmaking, while Rothe turns in a performance that is actually engaging, contributing nicely to Tree's character arc. Happy Death Day's comedic elements also work, although there are some jokes that push the envelope in ways you would expect college students to do. All of this plays into the absurdity of the premise, which makes for an entertaining enough experience that won’t leave audiences feeling completely cheated.

Happy Death Day releases October 13th, 2017 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, language, some drug material and partial nudity. Its runtime is 1 hr. 36 min.

You May Also Like