Happy Death Day is out this weekend from Blumhouse Productions, the company behind recent horror hits such as Get Out and Split. It’s Groundhog Day with a horrific twist. Sorority girl Tree is killed on her birthday, but keeps waking up that morning and has to re-live the day over and over again until she can figure out who her killer is. Sounds fun, right?
It is fun, to an extent. The premise brings something different and fresh to the slasher genre, and Tree’s repeated deaths actually make for some humorous moments. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to call Death Day a horror-comedy.
Unfortunately, fun as it may be, this flick loses all of its charm with its characters. There is barely a single likable character in the whole film. They’re all stereotypical “sorority bitches” or the frat equivalent. Then there’s Carter, the “good guy” that’s supposed to help Tree solve her own murder, and even he’s only semi-likable. It’s really hard to get invested in a movie when you can’t get invested in any characters.
Part of that problem is in the nature of the film. When you’re watching the same day play out again and again, it’s impossible for 99% of the characters to get any true development. But you should get enough time with them to see their different sides, and Scott Lobdell’s script just didn’t supply that.
Then there’s the protagonist, Tree. The point of these live-die-repeat movies, like Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow, is for the main character to learn something about themselves from repeating the same day over and over again. Now, Tree does learn something in Happy Death Day, and she’s a different character at the end of the film than we first see, but that evolution never feels earned. We never really see her recognize her flaws and learn to be a better person – she just suddenly is one. She tells the audience that she learned a lesson in a monologue, which is a huge writing faux-pas, and we’re just expected to believe her because the plot demands it.
The horror element of Happy Death Day also falls a little flat. The live-die-repeat concept should allow the filmmakers to explore a variety of really awesome scares and deaths, but instead the audience is subjected to just a few jump scares. As mentioned earlier, this film straddles the line between horror and comedy, but it never really commits enough to either side of the spectrum. Instead it just gets lost in the middle.
The bottom line is that Happy Death Day is a fine movie. It’s something that you can put on in the background or at a party, but it’s far from the film that it could have been, and far from what we’ve come to expect from Blumhouse.