Screenshot from Universal Picture’s Trailer
Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars
Ever since Bill Murray’s movie “Groundhog day” came out, anytime anyone makes a movie that involves time loops; you’ll always at least find a few people who reference back to “Groundhog day.” Tom Cruise utilized the same gimmick in the sci-fi action film, “Edge of Tomorrow,” and now the horror genre is trying their hand at it with the amusingly titled “Happy Death Day.” This film was produced by Blumhouse productions, a company that specializes in creating low budget, but highly successful and critically acclaimed horror movies such as “Get Out,” “Don’t Breathe” and “Lights Out.” Does this film carry on the studio’s hot horror movie record, or has this time loop trick finally run its course? Let’s dive right in and find out.
Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is a sorority girl on campus, just trying to enjoy her birthday and dealing with the usual annoyances in her life. Things go from bad to weird when a masked killer murders her and she wakes up the next day, reliving the exact same day as before. With a seemingly unlimited amount of lives, Tree will keep on dying to find out the truth behind her deaths and stop the killer before she is doomed to relive her birth/death day forever. Sometimes when you walk into a movie, you have an idea of what to expect. Movies can meet, surpass or fail past your expectations and in the case of “Happy Death Day,” it didn’t just surpass my expectations; it downright blew them out of the water.
“Happy Death Day” feels less like a run-of-the-mill horror movie with a time loop gimmick and more like a witty, well-crafted and extremely satisfying story that delivers so much more than you could have ever expected. Characters aren’t treated like disposable body bag fillers; they’re treated like evolving, growing and surprisingly well developed characters and become far more interesting as Tree tries new approaches to each looped day. Sure, some may come off as stereotypical A-holes that populate any teen studded cast, but they’re use is far more comical than to be taken that critically serious. We may see Tree’s death day looped over and over but things never happen the same way, the circumstances, the death, even the tone of the film feels to change with each new clue obtained. The film actually feels more comedic than scary after a certain point, and not in a satirical manner.
The film hardly has any gore or extreme violence, relying more on genuine growth for our heroine; watching her learn and prepare herself with the knowledge she learns from each new death. Jessica Rothe truly brings her rotten role to life. She lives, breaths and exists as the most obnoxious human being you could ever meet. She plays the part well and her growth throughout the film is not only believable, it’s extremely satisfying to watch. The supporting cast all plays their parts very nicely. No one feels forgettable or too generic. They work, they grow and they make us laugh unexpectedly, much like the rest of this movie. I was genuinely impressed at the sharp wit of the film’s humor. At times I forgot this was supposed to be a horror movie, and despite it being advertised as one, I’m quite pleased with this surprising change.
The mystery behind the killer was brilliantly written. More and more twists and turns keep popping to surprise you and throw you off course. Even when you think you got the whole story, another change comes that extends the story and intensifies the tension. There were points were I was struck in awe at the story’s use of ingenuity and execution. My only slight criticism comes with the application and origins of the time loop. It’s never explained how Tree got this ability, or if someone gave this to her or what made her so special that she got this ability to cheat death over and over again. It’s not a huge problem as it allowed us to learn along with Tree and how to think more and learn the side effects of this time loop without expositions.
Still, it wouldn’t have hurt to offer the smallest of scraps of rationales on what caused this and why this was happening in the first place. The movie didn’t really need it but even a hypothetical guess would have been sufficient. Overall, “Happy Death Day” is a horror movie that uses an old trick but uses it in far more interesting and innovative ways than expected. The film’s humor is far sharper than the tip of any blade, it’s becomes less about horror and more about solving mysteries and making wise cracks and Jessica Rothe truly knocks it out of the park. This is one of the best horror movies to come out of 2017, and just a fantastic movie in general. I highly recommend movie lovers of all genres to give this a stab; you may be surprised how much you like it.