As I walked out of the theater after my viewing of “Happy Death Day”, I felt equal parts of disgust and mirth. On one had, I had just witnessed the cheesiest film I had seen in years. On the other, I literally cackled uncontrollably and pumped my fist in the air during the finale. In a theater. Yeah, I was that guy. But my laughter wasn’t because I had just experienced a delightful comedy. Oh no, dear reader, I was laughing because of the level of absurdity that I had just witnessed trying to pass off as entertainment. Admittedly, I had different expectations for the tone of this film going into it. But I don’t think any prerequisite knowledge could have girded my loins for pain I was about to endure. Thank God for Movie Pass.
You’ve heard of “Groundhog Day“, right? It’s a beloved film about a jerk who has to relive the same day over and over until he learns his lesson and fixes his curse. Imagine that story with a final act so painful you’ll think you’ve been masturbating with a handful of Soft Scrub.
Hopefully you’ve seen the Bill Murray classic, because our main character, Tree Gelbman, sure hasn’t. Wait a minute. Her name is “Tree”? Are you kidding me? Is her mother Gwyneth Paltrow? But I digress.
Awful name notwithstanding, Tree is an awful human being. She’s condescending, entitled, and completely full of herself. Upon waking up in a strange dorm room with a wicked hangover, she goes through her day racking up potential suspects for her inevitable murder. When Tree is finally cornered by her assailant in a baby face mask, she’s startled to find herself waking up in the same dorm room after her death. She now has to relive the last day of her life over and over again until she is again killed each night. Her plan begins with escape, moves to personal redemption, and ends up on full-on assault of her attacker.
Believe it or not, I was really enjoying the setup for “Happy Death Day”. I’ve always been a fan of Harold Ramis’ work from 1993, and I thoroughly enjoyed “Edge of Tomorrow“. The time loop plot device worked for me in the past, and it did so here as well. The problem for me is the tonal shift in the middle of the second act. While this movie may have been marketed as a comedy in the trailer (I would argue it came across more serious than slapstick), it never gave a hint at the level of bad 80’s dialogue and plot twists present by the end of this film. Some lines made no earthly sense and belonged in a bad B-movie.
If there had been a consistency in tone throughout this film, I might have been on board. But the abrupt shift blindsided in a downward spiral that made me lose interest well before the final credits rolled. Furthermore, the “mystery” is completely lame. There were plenty of opportunities to wrap up the plot in an interesting way. But instead the writer chose to take the most implausible ending just for the sake of being quirky. Regardless of how much the hipsters try to convince me otherwise, “random” doesn’t make for quality or interesting writing.
Jessica Rothe plays the part of the unlikeable protagonist just fine, even if she comes across likes she wishes she were Rachel McAdams. She ain’t no Bill Effing Murray, however. See, Phil had a certain charm to his asshole nature that made you kind of root for him. Tree, on the other hand, is simply just a despicable human being. That’s really a credit to Rothe’s performance, because she had me cheering for Tree’s demise at the end of each day. I have to hand it to her; she really sold me on this character. Nearly everyone else in this film, however, felt as if they were on the set of “Scary Movie” or some other spoof. Again, if this was the tone they were going for, they missed the mark by merely teasing us with an intriguing premise.
Despite the below-average acting and mind-numbing dialogue, I appreciated many of the shots in “Happy Death Day”. While the baby face mask was hard to take seriously for the most part, some of the cinematography made it very creepy. One scene where the mask is reflected in a car window during brief flashes of light stood out in particular. Outside of that, there’s not much to list in the “pro” column. As for a “con”, I felt distracted by numerous perspective shots that felt added for tension. It doesn’t matter how you frame the shot if I’m laughing at the insane dialogue.
Perhaps you might go into this film with a different mindset and enjoy it more than I did. All I can say is that I felt embarrassed that I dragged my wife to the theater to see this flick. It had both of us at the beginning, but lost us even before the ridiculous finale. There are some redeeming moments, but nowhere near enough for me to recommend a theater viewing. I’m not even certain a few beers with friends will make this one enjoyable. Hopefully your mileage varies.