A teenage girl, trying to enjoy her birthday, soon realizes that this is her final one. That is, if she can figure out who her killer is. She must relive that day, over and over again, dying in a different way each time. Can she solve her own murder?
So this review is going a little off trend for me. I am not a huge fan of comedy horror movies. I tend to avoid them and prefer my horror to be fairly serious. After seeing the trailer for Happy Death Day in the cinema. It seemed like it balanced the comedy and horror well enough to fit nicely into both genres. I loved the concept so we gave it a go.
Sometimes comedy horror can be perfect. When you don’t feel like watching something too heavy. Turn off your brain and throw on a comedy horror. What better wat to just relax? Happy Death Day fits the bill perfectly for this.
I feel as though I need to preface this review with a little insight into how I score movies. Some people who have seen Happy Death Day may look at this score and think it is a little generous. I have been pretty harsh on some of the horror movies I have reviewed on Knockout Horror. Some of these movies are generally well liked by much of the horror community. To suddenly offer up a fairly high score to what is a tongue in cheek, Groundhog Day, style horror perhaps seems a little absurd.
Some people are bound to look at the score for Happy Death Day and think “so this twat is saying this is better than Midsommar“. Well, my answer there would be no, it is not. Happy Death Day is different to Midsommar and comparing them would be absolute lunacy. Would it be accurate to say I enjoyed Happy Death Day more than Midsommar? Hell yeah, it would! Happy Death Day, as a comedy horror movie is better than Midsommar is as a folk horror. Get it? Everything is relative to what the movie is trying to be. These two movies don’t even belong in the same conversation and, aside from the comments I have just made, I won’t be comparing apples to pears.
My partner and I spoke about this a lot. How perfect would the Groundhog Day concept be for a horror movie? Groundhog Day is almost a horror movie in itself. Imagine waking up every morning only to have to repeat the same day indefinitely. People can’t even cope with lockdown so imagine trying to cope with that? Well, along comes the fantastic Christopher Landon with Happy Death Day and it is pretty much everything I hoped it would be.
I figure we should get this out of the way straight off the bat. You can’t make a horror movie like this and expect it to be a masterpiece. The concept doesn’t really lend itself to that. Groundhog Day worked so well due to the incredible combination of both Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. Everyone else who has tried this formula has come nowhere near the perfection of Groundhog Day. Happy Death Day, in my opinion, does the best job with the concept outside of the aforementioned Groundhog Day. It is not trying to break any new ground and it doesn’t do anything particularly different. Still, Happy Death Day works incredibly well with the Groundhog Day concept.
That is pretty much the entire concept of Happy Death Day. We follow Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she wakes up, on her birthday, in classmate Carter’s (Israel Broussard) bed.
Trying to work out where she is and how she got there. Tree makes her way back to her sorority house. On the way she encounters various different characters that we may or may not learn more about later on.. Back at the sorority house Tree is greeted by housemate Danielle before heading to her room where room-mate Lori (Ruby Modine) hands her a birthday cupcake. Lori heads out for work after Tree realises she is late for class and bins her cupcake.
Tree goes to classes where it is revealed that she is dating her professor. A sordid encounter in the professor’s office is interrupted by the professor’s wife turning up unexpected. Later on that night, Tree heads to a party where she is lured into an alley by a present on the ground. A masked killer appears behind her, stabs her, and ends her life…. or maybe not as she wakes up again in Carter’s bed just to relive the day all over again.
As you can see, there are already a lot of characters in the picture. Over time it becomes clear to Tree that she needs to find out which one is responsible for killing. Indeed, it is the only way she can end the cycle and carry on her life. It’s a “who done it” in the fashion of Scream and other similar slasher horror movies. To be honest, Happy Death Day, were it not for the modern themes, wouldn’t feel out of place in that era of horror.
The suspense is drawn out throughout the length of the movie and you are left with plenty of opportunities to guess who is responsible. Movies that feature a mystery element need to keep you guessing. I think Happy Death Day does this really well. The repeating day acts as a very convenient capsule for this as events can be changed ever so slightly to facilitate different potential killers.
The suspense element and the ability of Happy Death Day to keep you guessing really masks the fact that the film has a pretty hefty 96 minute runtime. I can honestly say I was never bored or wondering when it was going to end. We watched this for the first time in the cinema and it felt like it absolutely flew by. Obviously this is a credit to the director Christopher Landon as there is barely a down moment in the entire movie.
I just love Jessica Rothe, she is absolutely fantastic as Tree. I don’t know how she would do in a serious drama or something but here she is in her element. She oozes charisma and attitude and brings a ton of energy to the role. We just watched Happy Death Day 2U (review coming up this week) and, in that, she even shows off some of her ability to project emotion and it was genuinely fantastic.
Whether she is being a damsel in distress, walking through the grounds of the school naked, or turning the tables on potential killers, she is always great. This is obviously very important. The movie focuses so heavily on Tree that, without a decent actor, it would be difficult to enjoy and very hard to root for her. Maybe some viewers won’t like her due to how much attitude she has but her performance is unique and lots of people will love her character.
Happy Death Day’s side characters are also really good. Carter, played by Israel Broussard is very likable. Phi Vu as Ryan is funny in a limited capacity and, thankfully, has his role massively expanded in the sequel. Danielle, played by Rachel Matthews, is a total hoot. She pulls off one joke so well that it got an audible laugh gasp from the audience in the cinema.
The entire cast is great and they all bring something unique to the film. I am really looking for something to complain about here and there is honestly nothing. Characters are more fleshed out in the sequel and some of them are a little underdeveloped here but it isn’t really anything that interferes with the movie.
Movies that follow this kind of theme are particularly hard on directors. Deciding how events should flow and how to frame things is difficult enough on a regular movie. When it is one featuring a repeating sequence of events, however, it is even harder. Christopher Landon does a fantastic job here. You are never really left feeling as though events don’t flow or make sense. The timeline is well maintained and there are very few goofs in the shots. I can’t wait to see more from him as I thought Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was a pretty bloody underrated movie as well.
Cinematography in Happy Death Day is maybe easy to overlook. I actually think it is fantastic. Scenes jump from happy college life to comic slow motion shots to scenes that wouldn’t feel out of place in a 80s slasher movie. Throughout there is barely any noticeable decline in quality. When Happy Death Day needs to be a horror, it is a very good horror. When it needs to be a slice of life comedy, it is a very good slice of life comedy. It is very well done.
I guess I am raving a fair bit here but I have really enjoyed Happy Death Day every time I have watched it. From a subjective viewpoint, f you put a gun to my head, then maybe a slight trim of the running time couldn’t hurt. Maybe we could have lost the subplot with Tree’s late mother as we don’t really need to force emotion into a movie like this. Maybe the makeup artists could have used a different type of foundation on Tree? It is layered on pretty thick and I can’t help but notice it throughout the movie.. Yeah I am really having to dig deep for these issues. As a fun slasher comedy horror, Happy Death Day does most things right.
It is hard not to notice that the ending feels a bit tacked on. I heard there was an alternate ending that was screened to poor reviews so the producers opted for a change. I don’t know how the original ending would have felt in comparison but the ending here feels just a tad disjointed from the rest of the film.
Objectively, I can imagine the mixing of styles is going to put a few people off. A lot of horror fans like their horror to be one thing or another. Happy Death Day is like Scream did it with Clueless while every slasher from the 80s watched. A lot of people will not enjoy these blending of styles and will likely be put off by the attempts at humour and the blatant love plot that could be ripped right out of a 2000s Ryan Reynolds movie. For me, it works well but some people are going to really dislike it.
Would I recommend Happy Death Day? Hell yeah I would, just go into it with the right mindset. Don't go in expecting some amazing, ground breaking, horror movie. Happy Death Day doesn't do much new and it really doesn't claim to. Go into it with an open mind expecting to have a laugh and you will find a lot to love about Happy Death Day. It is funny, suspenseful, and, at times, very good at being a traditional slasher. It has fantastic acting, it keeps you guessing, and it is genuinely funny throughout. It's just good old fashioned horror comedy goodness.
Remember when reading this review; this isn't some high art indie horror movie. This is a fast and fun slasher with a comedy leaning and as far as that goes, Happy Death Day gets it spot on. Once again, I am not comparing it to Midsommar or Hereditary, I am comparing it to other comedy horror. If you go in with an open mind you might love it.