'Happy Death Day' Film Review

In Happy Death Day, a college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer's identity. So, basically, Groundhog Day meets generic teen thriller, heavy on the generic teen thriller.

Tree Gelbman* (Jessica Rothe), our lead heroine, is classic movie sorority girl. All she cares about is how she looks and how guys think she looks. The film follows Tree on her birthday and quickly establishes that she’s inconsiderate to everyone in her life that doesn’t fall into those categories. This includes her roommate, other students on campus, and even her own father. Tree’s birthday ends with her own murder at the hands of a masked killer. She then wakes up to find that she has started the day over and must continuing dying until unmasking and stopping her killer. Along the way she may just learn to… you guessed it… become a better person.

*Yes, her name is Tree. No, it’s not explained.

As Tree tries to solve her own murder, she is helped by a fellow student named Carter. It’s Carter’s bed that Tree wakes up in every morning, but they had only just met the night before. Carter is the awkward, nice guy that Tree would never usually go for. Can you see where this is headed? The usual popular girl/nerdy guy trope gets complicated here due to the fact that the defining feature of Carter that clearly and visibly wins Tree over is that he did not take advantage of her when she was drunk. This is her baseline for a nice guy. The revelation that Carter didn’t sleep with Tree is played for swoons. It comes off as problematic.

Where Happy Death Day tries to put itself above other generic slashers before it is its sense of fun. When head sorority girl Danielle asks a sister, “What even is breakfast, Becky?” I was relieved to realize this wasn’t a film taking itself too seriously. When Danielle later explains to Tree that deja vu actually just means someone is thinking about you while masterbating, I realized I would much rather watch a movie about Danielle. Hell, I’d watch that every week on tv. Awful sorority girls saying awful things while people are being viciously slaughtered all around them? Sounds like a show Ryan Murphy would make. They could even call it “Scream Queens”. I’m sure it would be a huge success.

Ultimately, Happy Death Day is a movie that works, if only in the slightest, in spite of its many flaws. It’s got a fairly generic plot told in a fairly safe way. The many deaths of Tree aren’t especially creative. She is stabbed under a bridge, she is stabbed in her room, she is stabbed in some guy’s room. It’s the comedic bits, as hit-or-miss as they are, that hold this film together. Is it a good movie? No. Is it an entertaining movie? Sometimes.