I remember seeing a lot of promotion for this film back when it came out. Everyone was talking about it and the idea of a time loop in a horror film is quite original. You definitely have to give the film a lot of credit there. That said, while the premise is a lot of fun I wouldn’t say the execution is great. The writing tends to be sub par and since many scenes get repeated over and over, get ready for some particularly cringe lines to happen over and over again.
The movie starts by introducing us to Tree who is one of the meanest girls on campus. She is basically speed running how fast she can make enemies out of everyone. The girls’ just a bully who gets drunk constantly and doesn’t like having any responsibility. Well, one night on her birthday, Tree is murdered by someone in a mask. The thing is, she wakes up back at the start of the day and this keeps on happening every time she is murdered. So what should she do now? To break the cycle she needs to figure out a way to not die but no matter where she goes or what she does, the masked man seems to still find her.
So as I said that’s a fun dynamic. You’d figure that if you have unlimited lives to find a way to live that it should be easy. There are a few catches to it though such as Tree keeping remnants of her injuries from the deaths as well as the fact that they all still hurt quite a lot. It’s not like these deaths are easy after all. Tree gets stabbed, drowned, etc. This kind of plot also makes it very easy to backseat drive though. Like why would Tree go down the same dark alley in the second playthrough? She didn’t go all the way through which is good but if the murderer is still around then she’s still given him a good indication of where she is.
She plays the 2nd playthrough way too close to the first but this seems to be a common thing in these kinds of films. She does get a lot more creative after that. The best plan was probably just driving out of town. I absolutely would have tried that because living is the most important thing right now. That would be the way to escape. Also, Tree does have a bad habit of landing a blow on the villain and then turning to run instead of winning the fight. She could have won several times otherwise.
That part reminded me a lot of Scream where the heroine always lands the first blow in. Now where the film falters greatly is that it feels like there was no real effort put into the writing or the characters. Often times it’s just trying to be as crude or crass as possible. The way the characters all talk can be rather obnoxious in a 2000s high school setting kind of way. As mentioned, Tree’s just a pretty bad main character. She’s completely unlikable and while that’s part of her character arc, it doesn’t make her scenes any better. Tree’s unnecessarily mean to everyone and doesn’t feel like a main character. Usually she would have definitely been the antagonist in a different movie.
Aside from the issues with her character, the script is also just bad. All of the students seem rather crude like the roommate who barges in on her every morning. Quite a lot of the characters are cheating on other people, Tree has affairs with multiple guys, etc. It’s hard to find a single character in the film who has a good moral compass. Keep in mind that even Carter who is portrayed as the nicest guy here was still ready to have an affair with a drunk person that he only just met at an iffy club. Even the teacher is in on the action.
You really just can’t trust anyone at this school. It certainly makes it more difficult to choose who the murderer is but at the expense of actually finding any of the characters to be likable. You can also probably guess but this extends to the mystery of who the murderer is. This may even be part of the comedy to an extent but no matter who the murderer is, you have a sneaking suspicion that this just won’t work out. The murderer is around every corner and moves like lightning. Nobody ever notices this person show up and the ones that are attacked go down like a broken trampoline.
You’d figure that they could do something but that’s just never the case. The film isn’t very long so since there are a ton of suspects that means that a lot of them don’t get a whole lot of development or anything. They typically just get their one scene aside from Carter not counting if they are the murderer of course. You’ve got the teacher Gregory who is cheating on his wife with Tree and of course his motive for murder could be to make sure that nobody finds out about this affair.
You have Lori who bakes Tree a cupcake but it’s usually thrown into the trash. She may have taken that very personally. There’s her ex who keeps asking why she won’t return the calls and maybe that’s turned him into a bitter murderer. There’s the head of the sorority or at least self proclaimed head who is mad at Tree for having affairs with all the guys that she likes. That could be another reason for murder. You’ve got Carter who may be upset that she’s usually very dismissive of him, etc.
The film has no shortage of suspects. That’s not even accounting for the girl that Tree intentionally doesn’t say hi too, the girl handing out flyers, etc. It probably goes back to why the film wanted to make Tree super unlikable which is really a contrast to how the main character tends to be in these things. The problem is that the film should have left everyone else as being likable rather than breaking them down too. I don’t see a benefit to making everyone else unlikable since they would already have a decent motive if they were nice people on the outside.
Also, there’s a missed opportunity of having Tree just really crack in one timeline and try to kidnap everyone to ensure that nobody’s the murderer. That would have been an interesting loop. Maybe just cut out the girl on the steps and the ex to make room for this extra loop. After all, we’re all really here for the fun time loops right? Adding in the fact that Tree keeps in part of the injuries is a good way to add in some tension since it means that she can’t just continue to do this infinitely.
Happy Death Day does do a good job on the tone though. It does properly balance the slasher elements with comedy. This is because both sides are played straight. The slasher elements wouldn’t be out of place in something like a Michael Myers film while the rest has a more Bring It On kind of vibe going for it. The movie’s not very violent compared to most slashers either so it does well on that account. Not all of the humor lands (That roommate’s still the worst character here and his scene did not need to be replayed over and over) but for the most part it’s good. Cut out the unnecessary scenes in the film like the ex’s dark secret and you’d have a much more streamlined experience.
As a final note, the film makes it a point to say that Tree doesn’t care for birthdays much. There’s some context to this involving her past and there’s a whole subplot with her father but it’s complete filler so I haven’t mentioned it previously. (That’s another subplot that could probably be cut) So why would Tree have a ringtone that loudly declares that it’s her Birthday? That seemed out of character and I found it odd that in none of the time loops did she ever decide to take the call. Try everything to get out of the loop right?
Overall, Happy Death Day is a fun experiment but I wish it was handled a bit better. I’ll give it some kudos like going more for stylized violence so it isn’t that gritty and I love time travel. It just loses those same points on the writing and very dicey script. If you’re in the mood for a horror that has some fun with itself then this is probably one to check out since there aren’t a whole lot of them like this. There are even two high energy songs that pop up out of nowhere and at one point we got a montage that felt like something out of Scooby Doo. That said, you can still do better so avoid this one for now.