I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Happy Death Day

HAPPY DEATH DAY is a nice little high concept horror movie. 90 minutes, fast paced, upbeat. When I first saw the teaser I thought “I can’t believe nobody’s thought to do that before!” and sure enough these people did it ably.

See, it’s GROUNDHOG DAY meets a slasher movie (specifically SCREAM 2 I would say). Oddly named sorority girl Tree (Jessica Rothe, LA LA LAND) wakes up hung over on her birthday in the dorm room of some geek she barely knows. She shame-walks out of there in her shoulderless sequin blouse, squinting at the bright sun, and goes through a busy day (rushed changing of clothes, late for class, awkward run-ins with guys, sorority meeting, avoiding her dad, attempted tryst with a teacher) before being stabbed to death by an unknown person in a baby mask (weird school mascot, good slasher mask). And then she wakes up in that dorm again, on her birthday again. So she has to keep re-living this day, but also solve her own murder so that maybe she can see tomorrow.

Early on I had some twinges of “how much can I get behind this girl? She’s horrible!” I forgave her for dissing Carter (Israel Broussard, THE BLING RING), whose dorm room she wakes up in, because she assumes he molested her when she was drunk. That is a good enough reason to overlook that he’s probly pretty cool because he has a THEY LIVE poster. But then she ignores a girl outside the sorority house and throws her roommate (Ruby Modine)’s cupcake gift in the garbage, and I know the teacher (Charles Aitken, The Knick) is the real bad guy, but college age is old enough to know not to get with somebody who’s married.

But that quickly dissolved because of the novelty of a Final Girl who’s an asshole. Who am I kidding, I like seeing women getting a shot at this (see YOUNG ADULT, THREE BILLBOARDS, the recent BLOOD MONEY). Here it’s not only a gender reversal, it’s kind of a throwback: in the ’80s guys like Bruce Willis and Bill Murray captured our hearts playing charming assholes. It was a thing. Murray was still doing it in GROUNDHOG DAY and it’s cool that this young lady gets to do it a couple decades later in the ripoff.

It also works because Tree is redeemable. To me the deepest part of GROUNDHOG DAY is that he starts choosing to spend his days helping people despite knowing that it will restart at the end of the day. HAPPY DEATH DAY’s version isn’t as profound, but it’s nice. We don’t learn right away that Tree’s mother died on her birthday, and that makes it a hard day for her father (Jason Bayle, THE BIG SHORT), and that makes it hard for her to see him on her birthday. But eventually she does, and tries to face the issue and repair the relationship. And her investigations of different suspects cause her to see where they’re coming from and be nicer to them. And as Carter becomes her Andie McDowell, the one she can confide in about being stuck in the one day, she starts to really like him too, surprising him each day.

It’s filmed in New Orleans, which explains why Tree is wearing a t-shirt for the local funk band Dumpstaphunk. I was surprised to see that.

I only have two complaints, and they’re minor. One, at almost the very end there’s a part where they talk about GROUNDHOG DAY. I get it, they don’t want us to think that they think that we don’t know that they got the idea from GROUNDHOG DAY. But they shoulda let it go. Distracting, not funny, not worth doing. Two, the gimmick of a main character who gets murdered over and over again is crying out for some crazy Savini-esque kills, but it’s a PG-13 movie so any time something like that is implied it just cuts to her waking up again. Seems like a wasted opportunity, but luckily the story is handled well enough that I didn’t think much about that while watching.

By the way, like GROUNDHOG DAY it never reveals a reason for the time loop. That does seem a little more odd here since she’s facing the extraordinary circumstances of being murdered and also a time loop that as far as we know is completely unrelated. But I heard the director say that he does know what caused the time loop, and he told the Heat Vision blog “I will say that if we are lucky, and people like the movie and we get to do another one, I do have a sequel ready in my head, and it’s definitely not what anyone is expecting, but it will make a lot of sense. And it will answer a lot of questions that may pop up in the first movie for people.” Cool. I’d be into that.

The director is Christopher Landon, who I was not previously aware of. He’s the son of Michael Landon, and he wrote ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE for Larry Clark when he was still in college. Years later he became known as a horror guy because he wrote PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, 3, 4 and THE MARKED ONES. HAPPY DEATH DAY came from a script by comic book writer Scott Lobdell, that Landon had rewritten for star Megan Fox and producer Michael Bay, apparently adding the birthday element and changing all the dialogue and kills and the solution to the mystery. It never got off the ground so he brought it to Blumhouse, and it’s a perfect fit for them.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 30th, 2018 at 11:47 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Happy Death Day”

  1. I liked this one a lot. It’s not going to end up in the pantheon of great horror films or anything, but it handles its concept well and was a lot of fun to watch in the theaters. Unlike Vern, I actually appreciated them mentioning Groundhog Day at the end. To me, by acknowledging Groundhog Day exists in this universe, they are letting us know that this is sort of a “highest form of flattery” kind of imitation instead of a “let’s rip this off, most of the kids who see our movie weren’t even born when that one came out so they won’t notice.”

  2. I like this movie a lot. I think the best thing about this movie is that I could totally be a gateway to horror films for younger kids.

  3. emteem/Michael Mayket

    January 30th, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    My wife and I both enjoyed this one. Even in it’s PG13 trappings I enjoyed the concept that the trauma carried over with her into the reset. She woke up alive each time, but not exactly healthy. So, yeah, not life changing, but something I’ll definitely catch again to see how it all holds together.

  4. This movie probably had no business working as well as it does, and that is 100% a credit to Jessica Rothe. I am not sure if I have ever seen her before, but she was really fantastic. She carries the entire movie effortlessly.

    Oh, and the killer’s mask worked really well. That sounds like a silly point, but the mask the killer wears can make or break a slasher flick. See: Halloween, TCSM, Friday the 13th (from III on), Scream, Girlhouse (look it up), and many more I cant come up with off the top of my head.

  5. ALICE SWEET ALICE has my favorite killer’s mask.

  6. Yeah, but why is the school mascot a deranged-looking baby? This was a very strange school board decision, and though I don’t want to misplace the blame or victim shame, this was just offering a breeding ground for costumed killers.

    I agree that Jessica Rothe is excellent in this, but I think what’s missing is those moments of cleverness you get in GROUNDHOG DAY or EDGE OF TOMORROW, where it suddenly finds an ingenious element or loophole or emotional twist to the premise. And who bakes a single cupcake? I am asking seriously. I have never made cupcakes before.

  7. Grimgrinningchris

    January 31st, 2018 at 10:44 am

    I just counted and I’ve seen Dumpstaphunk 9 times.

    And Ivan Neville didn’t even start the band until years after I moved out of Louisiana.

  8. Haven’t seen this one yet but the concept sounded like a movie I came across years ago. From memory it was a good one, the hard R version of HDD

    Gruesome (2006) Echo Bridge Home Entertainment Claire Parker is going to die...

    Gruesome (2006) Echo Bridge Home Entertainment Claire Parker is going to die. At the hands of a sadistic and depraved killer, she will endure a terrify... - Mastor Troy - Google+

    Gruesome (2006) https://www.imdb.com/media/rm546084352/tt0492754/

    Gruesome (2006) https://www.imdb.com/media/rm546084352/tt0492754/ - Mastor Troy - Google+

  9. JeffG, Girlhouse might be the single most underrated slasher film not named Intruder. It actually scares the crap out of me. That’s super hard to do.

  10. I was thrilled to see this film at the cinema because it was nice to see a cast that was clearly having fun on screen which doesn’t happen anywhere near enough these days.

  11. Yep, I liked this one a lot. Way better than I expected, and wouldn’t have seen it in theaters if it wasn’t for MoviePass, which I wholeheartedly endorse for anybody who goes to the movies more than once a month.

    I agree that an uncut version of this with nastier kills would be great to have, but I’m not going to go do something serious like create an Internet petition for it.

  12. It seems to me that nobody knows about Christopher Smiths TRIANGLE from 2009 anymore.
    The Timeloop already met the Slasher Genre in that one.

  13. Finally saw this one. Lots of fun.

  14. Yeah this one’s a blast – PG-13, mainstream horror at its best. It’s got it all – a winning, star-making lead performance. Decent slasher scenes that don’t over-rely on loud jump scares or gore. A charming love story. A satisfying solution to the whodunit. A breezy pace and a runtime that doesn’t outwear its welcome. I actually don’t think I have any complaints about this one and I might have even liked it better than Edge of Tomorrow (ssshhhh….)

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