Lazy filmmaking is a shame. It is frustrating going into a theater and devoting the time to see a film when the filmmaker did not devote the same time in making. Happy Death Day already had an unoriginal element due to the fact that it is essentially a horror remix of Groundhog Day.
Tree Gelbman, played by Jessica Rothe, wakes up in a college dorm room in a daze. Her phone begins ringing, with the ringtone proclaiming it is her birthday. Why she has a ringtone specifically for one day is just one question that goes unanswered. Tired, hungover and embarrassed, she stumbles across campus to her sorority and gets on with her day, only to be murdered and find herself waking up on the morning of her birthday all over again. Each day repeats with the same beginning events.
At one point, Tree cleverly points out the timing of the day through her noticing a car alarm, a sprinkler and a collapsing student. It does not matter how much time she spends inside the dorm room in the morning because Tree always leaves to the same events outside, regardless of inconsistent timing. Repetition requires exactitude and this lacks significantly.
Another fault of this movie is that the main character is unlikable. Groundhog Day’s Phil Connors was a jerk, but he had the humor of Bill Murray, allowing audiences to justify accepting him into their hearts. Offering little in the way of charm, Tree responds “Nobody’s perfect,” when met with consternation toward her admittance that she spat at an Uber driver. Even with the film’s redemption arc, Tree is a difficult character to get behind.
Although claiming to be a horror twist on Groundhog Day, the film does not scare much either. It spends a considerably larger chunk of its time on the daytime escapades of the hero than it does on her nighttime deaths, but even in the latter, there is not a lot of fear to be had. Out of about nine jump scares, only a couple are effective, and scary tension is light. The concept of the baby mask is scary, but compared to the killer clown from this year’s It, the idea of something that would probably be scary is not enough when compared to actual horror.
Visually, director Christopher Landon can be commended for attempting to vary the scenery each time he repeats a moment in time. It is hard to catch a single moment from the same angle twice, and in this, the camera work shows effort. Even so, the cinematography, even in its varied state, does not offer anything new. Different scene shots are not necessarily the same as innovative scene shots.
Buried in this forgettable film is one significant moment regarding consent. The killer wears a baby mask which is also the mask of the college’s mascot. Tree accidentally ends up in a room with the killer, who pins her onto a bed with a knife in his hand. Suddenly, a drunk fraternity student walks into the room, where loud music is playing, witnesses Tree pleading for help, and cheers before leaving the room.
The subtext within that moment packs a wallop, bringing with it all the stories of on-campus assaults and the reminder of those who stand by and let them happen. Of course, the moment is not addressed in any meaningful way within the film. Instead, the moment is passed by and ignored. In a similar manner of careless filmmaking, a montage of Tree’s various lives feels largely wasted, with barely any value present in the multiple moments. Dying over and over again affords opportunity for a wonderfully morbid sense of humor. The opportunity is wasted.
Happy Death Day disappoints by not seeming like it has any agenda to create anything of worth, goal-wise. There is no thought in mind for the reason why Tree keeps dying, how her killer is tied into it or why it is on her birthday. Everything merely happens and then ends. No explanation is considered necessary.
There is little drama to the killings. No connection is ever built between villain and victim, only assumptions, with no satisfying answer in sight. A fake-out ending does surprise, but feels unnecessary, killing any possibility of resolution in Tree’s discovery of the killer’s identity. The motive feels as ridiculous and poorly chosen as the dialogue, both awkward and leaving one with the wish to abandon the film for something better.
Happy Death Day is not funny, scary or compelling. Its one driving question is poorly answered and its emotional arc is undercut by a lack of pathos in the protagonist. The film only leaves viewers with the question of how anybody could care so little in the making of a movie, or why anybody would rip off a classic film, adding nothing of worth to it in the process. Landon’s work would be best ignored, as that is what it seems the director did when making the movie. Any curiosity piqued by trailers and promotional material, wondering who the killer is or why the main character gets stuck in a time loop, can be sated by the knowledge that there is no satisfaction in the film.
Laziness and letdowns are the currency of Happy Death Day, a film that is not even memorable enough to warrant a baby mask costume on Halloween. There is something telling when the major marketing elements of a movie are its least addressed.
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