REVIEW | ‘Happy Death Day’ charms as much as it scares

October 21, 2017 - 1:07 PM
Jessica Rothe in 'Happy Death Day.'

“Happy Death Day” takes the narrative trope of a day repeating itself, seen in such films as “Edge of Tomorrow” and the classic “Groundhog Day,” and adds a horror twist.

When fictional characters find themselves living the same day over and over, there will always be an element of comedy at play. While “Groundhog Day” is a straight-up romantic comedy, “Edge of Tomorrow” uses the plot device in a science fiction adventure. “Happy Death Day” adopts it for the horror genre. Each day ends with the protagonist, birthday girl Tree, murdered by a killer wearing a mask.

While the film is meticulous in setting up the day’s pattern in the opening, it quickly starts hinting at all the possible suspects. The film knows its genre and quickly takes its audience for a ride. The tongue-in-cheek self-awareness makes it a breath of fresh air for the horror genre and lends itself well to the comic aspects of the film.

The film knows there’s an audience and the director, Christopher Landon, is happy to play with us, throwing off-beat scenes and red herrings to keep us guessing. The interplay between comedy and horror helps provide tension so that the movie remains thrilling.

Played wonderfully by Jessica Rothe, Tree is a sorority girl who happens to be a bitch. She is mean and selfish and at the beginning, you don’t even mind when she’s killed for the first time on her birthday. But the film smartly starts to reveal more and more about who she really is as she experiences each day all over again and Rothe starts to reel us into Tree’s interior world.

The film is surprising in that it presents itself as a fun gimmick of a movie but then slowly and steadily builds characters and a world in a way that becomes endearing. “Happy Death Day” is very enjoyable because it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a gimmick film, there are even some story issues that break the world’s interior reality but the suspension of disbelief is held because it doesn’t present itself too seriously.

And by doing so, the film sneaks in and makes you care.

“Happy Death Day” is not as funny as “Groundhog Day” nor is it as thrilling as ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ but it stands on its own two feet by not pretending to be anything more than it is and that is its strength. It takes its gimmick and executes it so well that you end up not having to compare it to those two films with similar conventions. Instead, you just sit back, relax, and enjoy the movie.