When Edge of Tomorrow came out a few years ago, everybody wrote it off as a Groundhog Day knockoff with explosions. Against all the odds, though, Doug Liman’s film managed to be clever, funny, and fresh despite its familiar premise. The same can be said about Happy Death Day, which injects a time loop into the slasher genre. Think Groundhog Day meets Friday the 13th. In addition to the aforementioned films, Happy Death Day also draws comparison to Source Code, Run Lola Run, and Before I Fall, which came out earlier this year. Fortunately, Scott Lobdel’s script has plenty of wit and creativity to distinguish itself from this oddly oversaturated class.
Jessica Rothe brings a great deal of charisma to Tree Gelbman, a college student that sleeps around, makes snarky comments, and is generally inconsiderate of others. In other words, she’s not the kind of character that survives very long in a horror movie. As a matter of fact, Tree is the film’s first victim, getting axed off within the first several minutes. That’s not the last we see of her, however. The next thing Tree knows, she wakes up alive and well exactly where she was that morning: in a dorm room with a young man named Carter (Israel Broussard).
As the day restarts, Tree realizes that her killer is bound to strike again. What makes her situation especially ironic is that her death day also happens to be her birthday. To make matters even more ironic, the killer wears a creepy baby mask. The downside here is that Tree has to be killed over and over again until she finally identifies the murderer. The plus side is that she seemingly has more extra lives than a video game character. Come to think of it, Happy Death Day actually has a fair deal in common with time travel games like Life is Strange and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
The filmmakers don’t even attempt to explain how this time loop works, but that’s not really important. What is important is what they do with this premise, which is surprisingly a lot of fun. The writing is self-aware, but still takes itself seriously enough to work as a legitimate horror movie. The performers are all clearly having a ball and succeed in bringing something more to the stock characters we typical see in this genre. The plot is well structured and paced, although the final destination is a little predicable and the killer’s motivations could’ve been more intriguing. Even then, though, Happy Death Day is smarter than it has any right to be.
Director Christopher B. Landon previously wrote Disturbia, which obviously borrowed a few pages from Rear Window. He also wrote most of the Paranormal Activity movies, which didn’t exactly invent the found footage genre. In short, Landon’s films are never the most original, but he knows how to change an idea just enough to make it his own. Happy Death Day is another worthy addition to his Landon’s filmography. If he makes a sequel, however, let’s hope that he doesn’t simply repeat himself.