I have to admit I expected to hate Happy Death Day. Save the occasional Final Girls or Insidious, I’m not much of a fan of PG-13 horror. Case in point: the excruciating Wish Upon, which made me wish that all the characters had been killed in the first five minutes of the movie, thereby saving me ninety minutes of pure torture.
But I kinda loved Happy Death Day. And why should I have had any doubts? It was produced and released by Blumhouse, who’ve mastered the fine art of turning a profit on well-made horror movies, and in 2017 alone, lit the box office on fire with Split and Get Out.
A quick rundown: College student Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up one morning, hungover, in the bed of an sweet and earnest nerd. Later that night, she attends a party, and on the way home is murdered by a psycho in a baby mask. Suddenly, Tree wakes up in the morning, hungover, in the bed of that same sweet and earnest nerd. And thus begins a perpetual rewinding of Tree’s day that ends with her being murdered, over and over again, by a psycho in a baby mask.
If you’re thinking this sounds like Groundhog Day, you’d be right; that’s exactly what Happy Death Day is. Each iteration of her relived day allows Tree to progressively learn the rules of the game and collect clues that might lead to the identity of her killer. The nerd, Carter (Israel Broussard), to whom Tree becomes closer each time she wakes up in his bed, begins to believe her story and helps her to unravel the mystery that seems to tie into a personal tragedy. Director Christopher Landon has a lot of fun with the premise by highlighting the pitfalls of Tree navigating her own demise—one misstep, and she’s back in Carter’s bed. While distracted one day, she even steps into the path of an oncoming bus and has to start all over again.
The movie isn’t perfect. The identify of the killer, which should be evident to anyone paying attention, is a little bit of a letdown, as is the tedious explanation of Why They Did It. And there’s a bit of red herring work in the script that feels forced and poorly resolved. But the cast is engaging, the pace is brisk, and the premise holds up well. Now I’d like to see a project where the heroine from Wish Upon gets to relive her day over and over again, until she’s in a movie as good as Happy Death Day.