Multiple times while watching Happy Death Day, I wrote in my notes: “Who’s killing her?,” “Why?,” and “Who cares?” Attempts to humanize “Tree,” as college student protagonist Teresa (Jessica Rothe) is called, are in vain because by the time we learn her backstory we already don’t like her. When she gets killed, we can’t help but think the world is better off. Then she wakes and the whole torturous day starts over again, for her and for us.
I’m ahead of myself. As director Christopher Landon’s film opens, Tree wakes in Carter’s (Israel Broussard) room after a night of partying. Tree doesn’t remember his name. She leaves, walks through the quad, goes home to be terrible to her sorority sisters (not that they’re peaches themselves), and blows off her father’s phone calls even though it’s her birthday. Later she goes to a party, and is stabbed and killed by a masked person while walking alone. There is no element of surprise here, and darn if you don’t hope the movie will focus on a more interesting character now that this vapid floozy is dead.
It doesn’t. Tree wakes in Carter’s room again, walks through the quad again, etc., and soon realizes she needs to find out who keeps killing her to stop the cycle of repeating the day.
By now you’re thinking, “How is Tree able to relive the day?” and “Why her?” Great questions. Too bad Scott Lobdell’s screenplay doesn’t answer them. Is it supernatural? Is she special for some reason? Does she need to get over her selfish self in order to move on? All those ideas are introduced, and none of them end up mattering. Watching the movie is like being given 10 pieces to a puzzle but only needing two to solve it. All the rest are excess.
Beyond the story, logical flaws abound, such as: During the montage in which she lets loose and does crazy things because, heck, she has nothing to lose, doesn’t she realize that each day could be the one in which she catches her killer, meaning she’ll have to live with the consequences of her actions? Not sure she wants to be known for pink hair and walking naked through the quad.
Also: Why doesn’t Tree turn on the light when she’s alone and walks into the bathroom thinking the killer is there? And why is the hospital suddenly abandoned when she’s attacked? For a movie that has more supporting characters than it needs, they sure aren’t around when they’re needed.
It’s fitting that Happy Death Day takes place on a college campus because it feels like a student film. It’s slight, poorly conceived, and lacks originality. In trying to think of something nice to say about it, I come up with little. I chuckled at a few one-liners. The ending is fine (but unimpressive). That’s about it. So don’t bother with it.
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