Happy Death Day – Enthusiastic Exploration of Groundhog Day Concept as a Horror Comedy!

Happy Death Day – Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) – Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

When I sat down to watch Happy Death Day, I was hoping for the best. After all the recurring day trope has provided some interesting and entertaining movies and several brilliant episodes of otherwise not so great TV shows.

What I wasn’t expecting was a genuinely clever series of variations on a theme that yielded some wildly divergent variations and a few really subtle ones. Also, plenty of wit and some great laughs.

We follow Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) through a day that begins with the consequences of a night before – hung over and in bed in a college dorm, with a guy.

She slams through the events of the day – ignoring a petition for protecting the environment; blowing off a guy who wonders why she’s not answered all his texts after one date; getting slut shamed by Danielle (Rachel Matthews) the head of her sorority before dumping a birthday cupcake made by her roommate, Lori (Ruby Modine), ‘from scratch’ and so on.

Happy Death Day – (L to R) Tree (Jessica Rothe) and Lori (Ruby Modine) – Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

We get it – she’s not a nice girl. We do eventually learn why.

Proceeding through her day, she’s pretty awful but on her way to a party she sees a music box playing Happy Birthday in an underpass. Instead of fleeing, she takes a closer look at it and winds up deceased.

Cut to Tree waking up in the same dorm room. This time, she knows the guy’s name Carter (Israel Broussard); where he keeps his Tylenol and where he folded her clothes. As we go through her day, she’s a bit less awful because she thinks she’s experiencing major déja vu and is really distracted.

As a result of her distraction, she does a few things differently – but the end result is the same.

Happy Death Day – Tree (Jessica Rothe) and Carter (Israel Brousaard)  – Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Eventually, she tells Carter, the dorm room guy, what’s going on. He might not believe her – despite her knowing about stuff happening before it does – but he suggests she needs to find out who killed her. If she solves her murder and prevents it, maybe the time loop will stop.

The idea of a recurring day has become a go-to trope but even though it usually proves an entertaining watch (the original – Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow), it isn’t always genuinely clever and well thought out.

Scott Lobdell (X-Men: Days of Future Passed) has provided a smart script that combines laughs and scares in pretty much equal measure and director Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) runs with it.

Happy Death Day – Tree (Jessica Rothe) – Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

On a technical note: the killer’s mask is possibly even creepier than Chucky – which is hilarious because of its actual intended use in the film.

Under Landon’s guidance, Tree’s growth feels natural and thanks to a nifty wrinkle – which I won’t spoil here – Happy Death Day comes to an ending is both expected and unexpected.

Happy Death Day is almost the perfect horror comedy.

Final Grade: A-