Happy Death Day commits its first sin very early on when it decides to make us listen to, and watch, the first three seconds of the Universal Studios logo twice before playing the full thing. It’s bad enough that studio logos take up 40 seconds before the story even gets going, but in order to establish the movie’s gimmick, it has the Universal logo rewind and start again a couple of times. It feels like stalling, honestly, and given that movie is barely over 90 minutes, maybe it was.
The film follows Theresa (Jessica Rothe), who wakes up, on her birthday, in a dorm room. She’s had a one-night stand with Carter (Israel Broussard), who seems nice enough. She storms off anyway. She is rude to everyone she meets for pretty much the rest of the day. It’s almost as if the movie wants us to hope she’ll die. I did. That night, on her way to a party, a man in a pig mask stabs her to death. If Happy Death Day were a short film, we’d applaud and move on with our lives. It is not a short film.
Theresa wakes up, again, in a dorm room. Carter doesn’t remember her, and she thinks she is just having déjà vu. Nope. The day progresses the same way as before, but she takes a different route to the party. She survive the walk. At the party she’s murdered. Then she wakes up in the dorm room. Yes, we’re doing the Groundhog Day thing, except Theresa has to find out the killer’s identity, she believes, in order to survive. The film goes on and on and on as she narrows down her list of suspects, eventually reaching its silly little conclusion.
Look, it’s not a bad premise. It’s the execution that’s off. Nothing particularly interesting happens during most of the re-lived days, and we have to follow a protagonist we kind of hope doesn’t ultimately survive. None of the secondary characters are developed enough to matter—there’s an even-worse sorority girl, the really nice guy, the kind roommate, a dad on a phone, a cheating-on-student teacher—so it’s not like we even feel like straining our brains, even a small amount, to try to figure out the mystery.
Happy Death Day is an annoying movie, one that has a decent premise that is wasted in the execution.
We’re also not given creative kills. The villain stabs the victims most of the time, which eventually gets dull. You might think there are no stakes, too, which would be true if the film didn’t awkwardly throw in how each death causes Theresa some sort of injury. She succumbs to the pain once but dies after that and seems fine. It was added to give artificial stakes—no protagonist is going to finally die that way—and give its characters a time limit. But, since it only factors in the once, it never feels particularly pertinent.
Happy Death Day also isn’t very scary, or funny, or dramatic, or anything. Its ultimate message is explained in a sticker on a dorm door: “today is the first day of the rest of your life.” How quaint. I’ve never heard a movie featuring teenagers or young adults feature anything similar to that before. So, at this moment, I’m left wondering what exactly the point is. We don’t even get to revel in gore, sex, or profanity, because it’s rated PG-13.
The lead is Jessica Rothe, who gets to scream and act like a jerk for 90 minutes, and she’s good at both of those things. Israel Broussard gets to be a “good person” for the entire film, designated as such because he shows the most basic of human decency. That’s how awful all the people in this movie are. None of the other actors leave any sort of impression. They’re not playing characters, anyway; they’re playing stereotypes. And they don’t have to act beyond those.
Happy Death Day is an annoying movie, one that has a decent premise that is wasted in the execution. We hate our protagonist, which means that we don’t care about the turmoil she’s about to go through—in fact, we kind of hope she does. Most of the other characters are also awful. There aren’t any scares, there’s no creativity to the deaths, it’s not funny, it’s not insightful, it isn’t dramatic—it’s a whole lot of nothing. The lead performance is fine, I guess. And it’s not painfully bad. It’s just not a good movie. Simple as that.
Conclusion: Happy Death Day is a bland, bad horror movie.
Recommendation: If you like watching an awful person try to not permanently die for a couple of hours, watch Edge of Tomorrow.