Movie Review: 'Happy Death Day' (2017)

When it comes to movies and their plots, it is next to impossible to invent anything viewers have never seen before. You can improve upon it though, and that is what director Christopher Landon deftly accomplishes with "Happy Death Day." As strange of a combination as it sounds, the movie is “Groundhog Day” and "Halloween" meets “A Christmas Carol,” and it works.

“Happy Death Day” centers on college student/sorority girl, Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe). Tree wakes up on her birthday hung-over in a nice guy named Carter's dorm room. She is rude to him and leaves. The movie follows her through her daily routine, which reveals that her nasty treatment of Carter (Israel Broussard) was not a one-time reflex. In fact, Tree is a pretty terrible person.

At the end of the day, Tree is murdered by a masked assailant. That should be the end for her, but Tree wakes up and relives her birthday all over again, complete with the same awful conclusion. Caught in an eternal death loop, she has to try to outwit her killer and escape the fate they have made for her.

Based on the original day that opens the movie, viewers know that the insensitive and downright cruel Tree has made a lot of enemies. Given the long list of suspects, “Happy Death Day” does not feel like it is stumbling in the dark trying to extend a premise that should have ended halfway through. The movie pulls off a unique balancing act as it features a character-driven story that plausibly furthers its blend of suspense.

Due to the movie’s emotional backdrop, “Happy Death Day” gives viewers a chance to develop a real affection for Tree as she evolves beyond her mean girl beginnings. Coming to care for her along the way, gives strong roots to the hope she will somehow find a way out of the death loop.

Image by Universal Pictures
Along the way of her personal development, Tree begins confronting those whose behavior she realizes is unacceptable. While Tree eventually reprimands the leader of her sorority for bullying girls over their eating habits, she does not come back at her for a disgusting deaf joke. Unlike the food-shaming scene, it is not recurring, but it needed to be addressed, nevertheless.

Actress Jessica Rothe gives a star-making turn as Tree, a difficult role many could not pull off. Rothe has the tricky task of getting you to still be interested in Tree, despite the hole she begins in with the audience. As the movie progresses, so does Tree, and Rothe poignantly portrays her journey from mean girl to anti-heroine.

Rothe's co-star Israel Broussard gives an equally crucial performance as the story's central good guy, Carter. Roles like this are more challenging than they seem and Broussard is unwaveringly believable as the sweet guy with no ulterior motives.

Even though “Happy Death Day” has a lot on its plate, it manages to portray a lovely romance between Tree and Carter. Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard share a sweet screen chemistry, and their characters fit in a way that does not feel forced.

Finding time for a romance only works in the movie's favor. There is really no genre box this movie doesn’t check off, including bits of comedy and dramatic reckoning, which makes it even more impressive.

While the movie owes a lot to its genre counterparts, "Happy Death Day" manages to stand on their shoulders to create something unique and original, which is a rare thing to accomplish these days. Director Christopher Landon gives fans a slick horror flick that never wavers in its entertainment value. A whodunit with a catchy premise that never meanders, "Happy Death Day" is a movie worth celebrating.

Rating: 8.5/10

[Featured Image by Universal Pictures]