Happy Death Day – Movie Review

I am not, nor have I ever really been, a fan of horror movies.  They just don’t seem to be fun to me, I don’t really like being scared. I hate roller coasters for the same reason.  However, there are a select few horror movies that I do enjoy and all of them have some sort of “high concept” around them that, to me, makes them transcend being a basic horror movie.  For the Scream franchise, it’s the semi-self-aware, meta humor.  For Get Out, it’s the social commentary and the symbolism combined with the plot reveal. For Split, it was the idea of multiple personality disorder taken to the extreme that drew me in (and, if we’re being honest, McAvoy’s acting).  So when I saw the trailers for Happy Death Day, I knew it was a movie I was going to have to see in theaters.  Not only did it utilize a great concept to build a movie on, the idea of repeating the same day over and over is one of my favorite niche movie/TV show plots.  Whether it’s Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, or any of the many TV episodes that revolve around that concept, I love the idea of what you could do when repeating the same day.

Happy Death Day revolves around Tree Gelbman (played by Jessica Rothe), a college student and sorority member as she wakes up in a strange dorm room with a raging hangover and then spends the rest of the day recovering and avoiding celebrating her birthday. Later that night, as she walks to a party, she is murdered… and then promptly wakes up in the same dorm room she did before. As I said in my intro, I love this concept and I really enjoyed how they changed it up for this movie. Instead of trying to fall in love like Bill Murray or kill the big bad aliens like Tom Cruise, Tree has to figure out her own murder and it is a blast to watch. “Blast” may seem like an odd word choice there but it is actually rather fitting.

Going into this movie, I thought it was going to be more of a straight ahead horror/slasher/thriller movie but little did I know that it’s actually very much a horror/comedy and it is very much a solid 50/50 split between those two genres. Happy Death Day strikes a fantastic balance between scares and laughs, something I was clearly not expecting but also something that was very much a welcome and pleasant surprise. If you don’t get anything else out of this review, I hope that knowing it’s as much a comedy as it is a horror movie helps level set your expectations going in.  I could easily see someone going to this film and being disappointed because it wasn’t what they thought it would be.

The cast in the film is made up of relative unknowns but for Jessica Rothe, I doubt that will be the case for long.  As the lead, she is in every single scene and she owns every bit of it.  Whether it’s in the beginning where she is a stuck up, bitchy sorority girl or whether it’s scenes where she is scared or scenes where she’s trying to investigate her own murder, she is always believable and her acting is always on point.  If this movie is any indication, she won’t be an unknown for much longer.  As for the rest of the cast, Israel Broussard, who plays Carter (the owner of the dorm Tree wakes up in) is the only other stand out but mostly because he has the biggest role to play in the movie.  Everyone else is ok but don’t have large enough parts to be noteworthy in the end.

As for the end of the movie (no spoilers, don’t worry), I was definitely kept guessing until the end and didn’t figure out who the killer was until the movie was ready for me to know, which is fantastic. I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I have watched a police procedural show and picked out the killer or bad guy as soon as they show up on screen. It was nice to actually be surprised in that regard.  I will say though, that the journey was better than the destination and that figuring out who the killer is, was more entertaining than actually finding who it is.  The ending wasn’t necessarily disappointing but it didn’t quite blow me away either.

In the end, Happy Death Day is a great movie and fun time at the movies.  I am definitely looking forward to seeing it again.

Final Rating: B

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