Happy Death Day won't win any awards or stay on your brain for a particularly long time after you exit the theater, but it's a fun and easy time at the movies.
Fun as in you don't exactly know who is killing poor Tree (Jessica Rothe) every single day in the Edge of Tomorrow styled plot, causing the college party hound to go into detective mode and solve the case herself.
Easy as in the movie has decent thrills, a good pace, doesn't stay too long, and won't make you overthink in your soft reclining chair.
Fun and easy. And it also helps that director Christopher Landon (writer of four Paranormal Activity films and Disturbia) lets the B-movie freak flag fly throughout the 96 minute running time. In order for a horror film to be worth my time and money, it has to do something new. It can be incredibly scary and lean into that corner of the genre, or create a fun edgy atmosphere and blend in a sense of humor.
Happy Death Day is the latter. Rothe's protagonist is one of those young people who treats college like an extended summer, partying often and sleeping with teachers to soften the blow of the grades. She doesn't care about many nor does he give proper attention to others, and that is due to a traumatic experience from her past that sneaks up on her every birthday.
When she is killed by a mysterious person wearing the logo for a mask one night, she wakes up the next morning to the same exact day and the same fate. How will she stop it? Can she catch the killer?
Happy Death Day blends old school whodunit tricks and modest thrills with a few well timed jokes, keeping the film light on its feet. There's a few smooth camera tricks and soundtrack choices that work well. Scott Lobdell's script keeps viewers on their toes by mixing up the death scenes and fooling your movie guessing mind on who the killer is and why it's happening. The end of the film is layered to the effect of every time you think the story has wrapped up, it's got something else coming. I liked that. This film didn't need a neat bow for an ending.
I love the B-movie production design, subdued score, and overall energy of the film. October is an interesting month, where award season fare starts to trickle in, yet the scary flicks keep them in check. Happy Death Day is a fun time at the movies, keeping you on the edge of your seat and smiling.
It's nice to have a lead actress that you care about and can invest some support in. Rothe had a small role in last year's La La Land and has done a ton of television, but this is the first time she has anchored a film. She handles it well, giving Tree a flair for the comedic touch that the film needs and handling the action sequences well. If she overdoes it or if you don't care at all for her, the film fails. She makes you invest.
If you aren't ready for Oscar's fleet of dramas to fly into the cinema, check out Happy Death Day. The filmmakers carved out this story watching Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, and a flurry of horror classics one late night. I can dig it.