Happy Death Day (2017)

Happy Death Day (2017) Cover

Happy Death Day fills a nice little niche that has never been touched before. It is exactly the comedy/thriller version of Groundhog Day that it promises to be. The comedy beats land reliably while the pacing and tone hit the right balance, but the best part was the story.

There is a challenge in writing an ending that feels like it fits but also isn’t predictable. Hitting that sweet spot of foreshadowing mixed with surprise kills so many movies. What I loved most about the last act was how it played with the viewer expectations. The ending is a purposeful subversion of the standard morality play. I would say the ending is why I like the movie as much as I do despite its flaws.

Could a better writer have done more with the material? Maybe. There are quite a few rough spots in the plot. For instance, there is no real character growth, and what growth there is doesn’t feel earned at all. But, that may be the point. Happy Death Day isn’t the same morality tale that you get from Groundhog Day. The lack of character growth bothered me; but, thematically it works.

Several times we’re teased with character growth that is hollow or short-lived. These moments support the goals of the film, but they’re distracting. Unfortunately, even though they need to be weak for the ending to work,that doesn’t excuse them.

Character development aside, the core story has elements that never fully resolve. Happy Death Day struggles with its premise. It needs to either address or ignore the reason why the protagonist is living the same day over again. Instead, we get plot points that hint at there being a larger logic but without resolution. These reveals draw attention to what’s happening without giving a satisfying understanding.

The only way to enjoy the film is to not think about why it’s happening. As an audience, we can’t do that if we are given information about it. This remains true even if the information never pays off, because it still causes viewers to think about what is causing her to relive the same day over and over again.

One area that makes up for the rough spots is the music, which is memorable. It’s got an engaging theme that pops up regularly. Appropriately, it is both slightly haunting and funny. There isn’t much variety to the music, and outside of the main theme there isn’t much that sticks with you afterward, but that’s a weak criticism.

Outside of these areas, the movie is competent, but not exceptional. The acting supports the great moments but doesn’t quite smooth over the bumpy bits. The cinematography is compelling but doesn’t ever elevate the storytelling.

In fact, these elements are all just good enough that Happy Death Day lives and dies by its story. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not great. That plot shines pretty bright, and is easy to recommend to those who can enjoy comedy with a hard edge if you can turn off your brain for a bit.

Final Verdict:A flawed gem that wins a lot of points for a fun premise and a great ending if you can embrace the premise.
Rating:C+