“Happy Death Day” is painfully stupid, overly silly and overstuffed with atrocious, unbelievable dialogue. It’s also a lot of fun. This a movie that is well-aware of itself, a film that exists purely at surface level and never evolves beyond its studio pitch of “Scream” meets “Groundhog Day.” It is simple and melodramatic, a B-movie with no intentions of trying to climb to A, but one that keeps us wholly engaged. “Happy Death Day” is like receiving a Target gift card for your birthday: ultimately you’ll forget the gift and the person who gave it to you, but you’ll still enjoy the discount toilet paper and cheap slacks you bought along the way.
Jessica Rothe stars as Tree Gelbman, a self-absorbed, apathetic sorority sister whom on her birthday, randomly wakes up in the dorm of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), an easy-going, friendly student who usually would never catch the eye-rolling sight of Tree. As she makes the walk of shame back to her bedroom, she encounters some familiar but unfriendly faces, all of whom Tree has rubbed the wrong way in one fashion or another. On her way to a fraternity party that night, Tree is murdered by a masked assailant, where she then wakes up in Carter’s bed once again, reliving her birthday, over and over, until she can find her assailant.
The film is effective enough at generating suspicion and giving us enough reason to distrust each of Tree’s not-so-much friends but acquaintances. Each drop of blood from her multiple murders births new red herrings and misdirections. The person who I thought was the killer didn’t turn out to be, and even though I think it would have been more satisfying if this person was the killer, the fact that I felt invested enough to find out the true identity speaks to “Happy Death Day’s” entertainment value. Plus, Rothe is excellent at balancing terror, humor and pleasant emotional catharsis through Tree. It’s a challenging role, but Rothe rises to the occasion, over and over again.
You’re going to think it’s dumb, you’re never going to think it’s scary, and you’ll laugh frequently at parts the film didn’t intend. Still, you’re going to have a good time watching “Happy Death Day,” and you’ll have an even better one talking about it after.