Review: ‘Happy Death Day’ delivers as a fun thriller for moviegoers

Stockton Grunewald, Staff Writer

To be completely honest, I had no expectations going into this film.

At first glance, Happy Death Day appears to be yet another run-of-the-mill, throwaway slasher film, based on a premise thoroughly explored in cinema, even recently, with Edge of Tomorrow coming to mind. With notable exception, the horror genre has largely been sapped by a plethora of poorly executed unoriginal titles that rely on cheap jump scares to get audiences in their seats.

Needless to say, the odds were stacked against Happy Death Day.

The film follows Theresa ‘Tree’ Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), a college student (with a surprising number of subplots) on her birthday. Tree has a lot on her plate–from sorority disputes to lingering family pains–that have really made her an initially unsympathetic protagonist.

Life changes in an instant when an unknown assailant kills Tree–she finds herself in a time loop, dying repeatedly until she can figure out the identity and motive of her killer. I was pleasantly surprised by how often I found myself grinning at the screen.

The humor, albeit crude, is a refreshingly original combination of outlandish trope-based gags and poignant self-awareness, with one character noting the similarity of Tree’s experience and that Groundhog Day.  In addition, Rothe delivers a strong and convincing performance as the film’s heroine, with a well-defined character arc that proves satisfying in the conclusion.

Of course, these elements do not excuse obvious cracks in the picture’s foundations. As much as I wish I could say it was, Happy Death Day just really is not that scary. Most of the terror is found in the film’s suspense, which wears thin after seeing the same scene unfold numerous times.

Coming from someone who slept with the lights on for several days (a mere four years ago) upon viewing John Carpenter’s Halloween for the first time, this probably isn’t a good sign. Aside from Tree and her unexpected companion Carter, most of the supporting cast is one dimensional, oftentimes with their worst attribute the most prominent. There were a couple times I was taken aback by a character’s reaction to a situation. The competing dynamic created by the two sets of characters is a bit jarring, to say the least.

Taken as it is, however, Happy Death Day proves to be a slightly above average slasher-comedy that is best seen with friends. Does it deserve a place at the Terror Table? No, but it’s fun, and that’s really all you can ask for.

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