Happy Death Day is a 2017 American horror mystery film directed by Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse; Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) based on a script co-written with Scott Lobdell. The Blumhouse production stars Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard and Ruby Modine.
Released October 13, 2017, the film was a big box office hit, taking a whopping $122,637,878 worldwide against a reported budget of $4.5 million.
College student Tree (Jessica Rothe) must relive the same day over and over again in a time-loop until she figures out who murdered her and why…
A British home viewing release from Universal is scheduled for 26 February 2018.
Review [may contain spoilers]:
Happy Death Day, a Blumhouse production that’s more a thin homage to ’80s slasher films than a direct rip-off, mashed together with Groundhog Day (1993), is exactly what an experienced movie watcher would expect — not good, but not bad, either.
First, the good. The acting from lead Jessica Rothe, who plays the faddishly-named Tree, is solid, especially considering the predictable 180° personality turn-around the script requires her to deliver. Israel Broussard, who plays Carter Davis, Tree’s forlorn comrade in her deadly struggle against the brutal time loop she’s caught in, expertly provides the lead milquetoast, an ineffectual male character which too many modern horror films cultivate.
Ruby Modine as Lori Spengler, is believable as Tree’s snippy roommate; Rachel Matthews as Danielle Bouseman, bitchy sorority queen, hits all the required anticipated notes; and Charles Aitken as Gregory Butler, Tree’s dallying college professor, comes off self-centered and superior, exactly as the character should.
Editor Gregory Plotkin and director Christopher Landon keep things moving and the transitions between the inevitable scene repeats are relatively interesting; Scott Lobdell’s script, although not even remotely innovative, is far tighter and more compelling than most of the original slashers it’s drawing from.
Now for the bad. Jason Bayle as David Gelbman, Tree’s father, looks nothing like Tree and is essentially unbelievable in his performance, which is astonishing considering his part is microscopic at best; Rob Mello as Joseph Tombs, crazed killer on the loose, and who isn’t even mentioned until well past the halfway point, seems more clumsy, unwashed oaf than unstoppable killing machine.
Like all slasher movies, this one abounds in bad choices and absurd situations: Tree wandering off into dark corners by herself; Carter easily believing Tree’s story of reliving her birthday and being killed each time; the inclusion of a come-out-and-be-proud gay element, which would have been somewhat daring back in the ’80s but only seems contrived and anachronous here; Tree taking on Tombs, Lara Croft-style, and beating him after Tombs’ effortless dispatch of the policeman guarding his hospital room.
A final difficulty is that it’s never explained how this loop happened to begin with or why; it’s simply left dangling, any clarification pushed behind a closing scene of characters actually discussing Groundhog Day and the quirky similarities between their experiences and the movie.
Despite the shortcomings, Happy Death Day is a surprisingly likable effort, worth watching if you’re in the mood for slightly elevated horror junk food and nothing too demanding.
Ben Spurling, HORRORPEDIA
“Happy Death Day is a deliciously wicked treat with fun twists and a strong lead performance by Jessica Rothe. It won’t scare you, but it will entertain you with a cynical sense of humor and a few clever new twists on a familiar formula.” William Bibbiani, IGN
“Most viewers will be playing the guessing game immediately, and here’s where Happy Death Day starts to fall apart. Pretty quickly, you’ll realize there are no hard and fast rules to this silliness, and trying to get ahead of it won’t do you any good. Without spoiling anything, it doesn’t come together in a satisfying way like Scream or the other great meta movies that played with audience expectations.” Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
“A lot of credit for Happy Death Day being worth seeing again and again is the performance by Rothe (“Mary + Jane”). She is believable as the snotty sorority sister, the scared and confused murder victim, and the strong woman who not only finds clues about her killer with each death but learns a lot about herself. It’s a demanding task because Rothe is in every scene but she steps up no matter if it means dying or trying.” Rick Bentley, Chicago Tribune
“The reprises of tiny incidents and encounters with variations are nicely intricate and amusing – the payoff for the equivalent of the Ned Ryerson character, a perhaps stalkery rejected football player type, is sweet and outrageous … and the multiple appearances of the single-candle cupcake and a brief power failure are ingeniously worked into the overall story. Recommended.” The Kim Newman Web Site
” …while the first 40 minutes or so feel fresh and relatively carefree in their execution – thanks in large part to Rothe’s affable sorority sister whose arc of redemption is obvious from the start – the film can’t quite decide on a tone, moving from drama to comedy and between bloodless horror. The end result, complete with its unmasking of the killer, feels like an episode of Scooby-Doo…” Darren Bevan, Darren’s World of Entertainment
“What’s lurking beneath the surface of this ruthlessly violent horror movie is a glimmer of gold. Happy Death Day is fun enough to be worth watching. It has a wildly dumb twist made forgivable by a punchline about Crocs. It deploys some wonky narrative tricks that expose a debt to A Nightmare on Elm Street, and it barely mentions Bill Murray.” Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Verge
“The third act wastes a lot of time on a lame red herring that is never once convincing, and when the true villain is ultimately revealed your eyes may very well roll to the back of your head. The reasoning behind the villain’s hatred for our heroine is really desperate, and the final showdown is laugh-out-loud funny in a way I’m not sure is intentional.” Eric Walkuski, Arrow in the Head
“The narrative may not be consistently airtight when considering how things would work in the real world, but by the point where these instances arise one is having such a great time it’s not even worth the nitpicking. Horror movies can be many things—terrifying, disturbing, unsettling, elegantly suggestive, and metaphorically deep. Happy Death Day is fun, plain and simple…” David Putman, The Fright File
” …it wasn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but it did have a fun storyline with pretty good acting. Especially from Jessica Rothe who played Tree (I know it’s a dumb name). She played a character who was completely unlikable during the first half of the film who then becomes someone you can feel sympathetic towards near the later half of the film.” Scott Crawford, Pop Horror
“Despite a few annoying flaws, Happy Death Day is still a fun watch based on the concept and performances. It’s a very entertaining film even when it falls flat. For every misfire, there’s another moment that pulls you back into the film right around the corner.” Jason McDonald, Horror-Movies.ca
“It’s disappointing that Happy Death Day is unable to come up with a successful blueprint for a spin on Groundhog Day, as placing that concept inside of a horror film isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Clearly, what the filmmakers failed to realize is that you can’t coast off one good idea while rounding out the experience with every stupid cliché the horror genre has to offer…” Robert Kojder, Flickering Myth
Tree: “Will you please stop staring at me like I took a dump on your mom’s head?”
Main cast and characters:
- Jessica Rothe as Theresa “Tree” Gelbman
- Israel Broussard as Carter Davis
- Ruby Modine as Lori Spengler
- Rachel Matthews as Danielle Bouseman
- Charles Aitken as Gregory Butler
- Rob Mello as John Tombs
- Phi Vu as Ryan Phan
- Caleb Spillyards as Tim Bauer
- Jason Bayle as David Gelbman
- Laura Clifton as Stephanie Butler
- Cariella Smith as Becky Shepard
- Tran Tran as Emily
- Blaine Kern III as Nick Sims
- Dane Rhodes as Officer Santora
- Tenea Intriago as Student Protestor
- Missy Yager as Mrs. Gelbman
- The mask was constructed by Tony Gardner, the same man who built the infamous “Ghostface” mask from every Scream film, and that its design was personal. Landon explains, “During pre-production… I was expecting my first son. I don’t know if I just had babies on the brain, or if I was subconsciously scared to become a father, but that baby image was floating around in my head. Tony made us a pig mask, too, but when I wore the baby mask in the office, I scared a co-worker, and we thought… yeah, this is it. This is the one.”
- Christopher Landon was inspired by films such as Groundhog Day, Scream (1996), Halloween (1978), Sixteen Candles, Back to the Future, E.T. the Extra-terrestrial, The Goonies, Gremlins, An American Tale, Innerspace, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Black Christmas (1974) and Heathers
- The film’s original title was Half to Death.
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