In the circumstance that one day you may have to guess the identity of your own murderer, such things could prove a little more difficult than they should be under the realisation that you are in fact a terrible person. Not a problem though, because Tree (Jessica Rothe) has all day to crack the case. Again, and again.
A college student wakes up in a dorm room with a boy she appears less than impressed with. A social division is already drawn; it would be the end of the world if her friends were to discover her in such accommodation with your traditional average teenager. She really is that shallow – as she ventures out of the dorms and begins the journey to her sorority house, she savagely shoots down an admirer and ignores those she feels are beneath her, despite how pleasant they are towards her. It is immediately clear that this sense of entitlement does not simply stem from the fact it is her birthday, she just isn’t a nice person. As twisted fate will have it, on the way to a party she is killed by a baby-faced killer sporting the mask of her college team. Live, die, repeat. She wakes up in the same dorm room, and, as you can guess, it won’t be the first time. To prevent her death is to break the curse, but to do so she must know who would want to cause her such grisly harm.
What follows is a gradual awakening – a harsh stare into the mirror. Every start to the day becomes a wake up literally and metaphorically; with the dawn of each day is the recognition that she is not a person to be proud of, and seeing how her friends treat others opens her eyes to the many ways in which her own behaviour is toxic. Under the pressure of living the same day on repeat, she begins to learn that she must choose her friends wisely for the first time in her life. This occurs under the habitual context of a teen-slasher in the same vein as Wes Craven’s Scream, or more recently, Stewart Hendler’s critically slammed Sorority Row.
As far as handling the sub-genre goes, director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) handles his own, and crafts a satisfying thriller that is light in tone but is just gripping enough to hold your attention. The films premise is extremely ridiculous, even for a slasher film, so it feels to be a failed opportunity that the thrills aren’t accelerated. A protagonist with an unlimited amount of lives with a mystery to solve should be much more exciting than this is. There is much potential to open up some extravagant set-pieces, to make the film much more riotous than it is. A party sequence takes place rather early on into the film, and could have provided very chaotic and zestful visuals. Sadly, it does not. Landon shows no signs of visual flare, so the only thing that separates Happy Death Day from a sea of similar product is an impressive performance from Rothe. She has clearly thrown herself into the role, but as enticing as it is, it makes other aspects of the film seem more sophomoric.
As Tree begins to tick suspects off of her list, it becomes increasingly interesting as to who the culprit will be, and when it is revealed it is actually satisfying if expectations are kept reasonable. This can be applied to the entirety of the film in fact. If expectations remain realistic, it would be hard to resist having a good time with this. It is a fun little slasher flick, of which a premise of ludicrous scale promises more than the events that transpire can deliver.