I recently ventured to the Marquee in Union South for the exclusive screening of “Happy Death Day,” an upcoming horror movie that’s generated a ton of social media frenzy. The movie was shown on Sept. 27, more than two weeks before it hits theaters nationwide on Friday, Oct. 13 (fitting for a slasher film, I’d say). Lines were out the door; needless to say, I was just as excited to see it as the 100+ other moviegoers, mainly because of the plotline.
Here’s the premise: A college student named Tree is murdered the night of her birthday party by a figure in an eerie baby-face mask; however, she subsequently wakes up the next day as if she had never been killed. Tree continuously re-lives this same birthday and is killed at the end of each night until she figures out the identity of her killer. Each day, she gets more clues as to who her killer might be, and although her routine differs each day, each one ends the same way: in her graphic and untimely death.
I was intrigued by the idea of reliving a day over and over again being used for a slasher film. The storyline is reminiscent of the early 2017 film “Before I Fall,” which had the same basic concept of the main character repeating the same day, minus the gruesome murders.
However, I was disappointed with what I thought would be a well thought out and innovative plot. To be fair, the teen-slasher genre isn't known for accumulating Oscars — and for good reason. First, the movie lacked character depth. Although it is hard to truly develop characters that rely on what Hollywood sees as stereotypical college students (the Sorority Girl, the Jock, the Nerd), I felt that if the characters were given more backstory and more dimension than simply their cliché, the film’s quality would have been enhanced tenfold. It is difficult to sympathize with Tree, who is continually murdered, when she is one-dimensionally spoiled, bratty and self-centered.
Additionally, the use of delayed jump scares in the movie downgraded what I thought would be a thrilling and pulse-raising movie. It became clear after the first time Tree is murdered that each time her killer sneaks up on her, even when she thinks she is prepared to face him/her head-on, Babyface comes out of seemingly nowhere and finishes the job. The audience simply comes to expect and accept the fact that even in a scene where Tree boards herself up in her sorority house, Babyface somehow still has a way of getting in. I knew I had to suspend some disbelief when going into the movie, but I felt that the writers could have done a better job in making certain elements more realistic.
The fact that the audience knows what is going to happen — that Tree will be murdered but still live to see another day — immensely undermines the scare factor. However, this is a complication that arises from the plot itself, and that can’t be resolved by the sheer nature of the film. Its PG-13 rating is evident in the fact that there is minimal blood and gore actually shown onscreen. As someone who’s easily grossed out by bloodshed in movies, I was relieved; but if you're a horror buff, you won’t be scared by “Happy Death Day” in the slightest.
Despite its flaws, the last half of the movie picks up and is much more entertaining than the first. Now that Tree understands that she gets to re-live the same day, she uses it to her advantage, whether to become a better person or dig even further into the whodunnit mystery. There’s also a solid use of comic relief to offset each day’s disappointing end, and I found myself laughing out loud at Tree’s dialogue. The character of Tree arguably becomes much more likable as the film rolls on, and by the end you get to see Jessica Rothe’s full acting abilities shine through.
The last thirty minutes of the movie is what truly redeemed the first hour or so, complete with an exciting end and a plot twist I didn’t see coming. What “Happy Death Day” lacks in depth it slightly makes up for in witty humor and pretty convincing acting for a teen slasher film. Could the film have been executed better? Absolutely. Did I hate it? Not entirely.