Jan 18, 2019
Jessica Rothe plays Tree in “Happy Death Day.” (Patti Perret/Universal Pictures)

‘Happy Death Day’ brings nothing new to the party

Stop me if you’ve heard this plot line before: Protagonist relives the same day over and over, and in the process is able to self-analyze ‒ and eventually rediscover ‒ his or herself.

It is a premise that has been explored time and time again with varying levels of success. “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow” made it work, “Happy Death Day,” the newest film to follow the aforementioned premise, does not.

“Happy Death Day,” directed by Christopher B. Landon and written by Scott Lobdell, revolves around Tree (Jessica Rothe), an abrasive and apathetic sorority sister who is forced to relive the day of her murder, which also happens to be her birthday, until she is able to find her killer.

Judging by the trailers and the nature of the story, one could assume this film’s identity lies solely in its slasher film tropes.

Jump scares, there’s a lot of them, are effective at first, but grow to be predictable and clichéd. The PG-13 rating makes sure the film is devoid of any of the gag-inducing and blood-soaked deaths we expect.

The film chooses to combine its slasher characteristics with those of a dark comedy.

Countless screen time is given to playful banter between Tree, her sorority sisters and the other supporting characters. Some jokes land, others feel too juvenile.

One such joke involved a Subway footlong double entendre, which felt like something more commonly shared in junior high rather than college.

The combination of the two subgenres ends up being the film’s Achilles’ heel. Neither the slasher nor the dark comedy aspects shine bright enough to make the movie truly memorable, leaving the film in a state of limbo.

The killer’s reveal also felt a little empty and confusing. The details of what felt far too convoluted and did not make much sense once the killer’s plan is analyzed.

But, the film is not without its redeeming qualities. One of which was Rothe’s performance as the main character.

Rothe’s acting range was on full display throughout the film. She was a jack of all trades, flexing her comedic muscles, while also making Tree a sympathetic figure during her times of fear and desperation.

Her chemistry with her new friend Carter (Israel Broussard), the reserved but charming young man in whose dorm room she wakes up on her “Death Day,” is also very noticeable and develops well throughout the film.

Their relationship breathes fresh air into a cast of mostly one-dimensional characters.

Outside of Carter and Tree, the cast is made to fit into one of many exaggerated stereotypes of college students.

Overbearing roommates, obnoxious sorority sisters and obsessive ex-boyfriends all make appearances, but none really add any interesting layers. Some even reach the point of insufferability.

On the surface, “Happy Death Day” is nothing more than a slasher filter slapped onto “Groundhog Day.” The premise is a good one ‒ it always has been ‒ but Landon fails to add anything of interest.

The film is self-aware of its timeworn premise, even going as far as to jokingly reference “Groundhog Day.”

But once past the surface, there is not much to be found outside of a few endearing performances.

“Happy Death Day” is in theaters now.

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