"Groundhog Day" Dipped In Blood: "Happy Death Day" Is Amusing, But That’s About It

*WARNING: Spoilers!

Imagine living your worst birthday ever, over and over again, while anticipating how you’re going to be killed that night. Sold? No, me either.

Happy Death Day is amusing, but that’s about it. If you’re seeking a brutally horrific, gruesome, or even scary film, you should probably look elsewhere. I figured I was in for a long 96 minutes. Unfortunately, I was right.

Blumhouse Productions’ latest film puts a bloody twist on Bill Murray’s classic Groundhog Day (1993), while easily topping the weekend box office with estimated sales of $26.5 Million. After the breakout success of Split (2016) and Get Out (2017), moviegoers had high hopes for Happy Death Day.

It’s no coincidence the trending slasher was released on Friday, October 13th, since this sorority girl meets Scream seems like all of the cheesy tropes and clichés you would expect. It’s a movie that is cheap to produce, and will sell easily heading into Halloween. While entering the theater, I definitely wasn’t expecting to be blown away, although, I would’ve liked to be entertained at the very least. The Universal distribution received mostly positive reviews, so, despite my boredom, they must’ve done something right.

The plot is centered on Tree (Jessica Rothe), a selfish sorority sister whose birthday starts in a man named Carter’s (Israel Broussard) dorm after a night out, and ends with her going to a frat party that evening. Before Tree can get to the party, she is brutally murdered by an attacker wearing an all black sweat suit and a baby mask (the mascot of her college). Not sure if “brutally” is the right word choice here. I’m no advocate for scary movies and I didn’t even flinch at the baby mask—I giggled, if anything. Considering the movie’s motive and genre, the violence is on the mild side, making it suitable for the younger PG-13 audience. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Tree wakes up each morning to relive her death day. The baby mask murders her every night until she is able to determine who the killer is behind the mask.

Although reliving the same day is the entire point of the movie, I found watching the daily scene with a slight variation just boring: the annoying ringtone when her Dad calls, swallowing Tylenol, a hipster bursting into the room, the global-warming activist who tries to collect her signature, sprinklers going off, car alarm sounding, stumbling across campus to her sorority house, running into her gay ex-date, being ratted out by her sassy sorority president (Rachel Matthews), getting a birthday cupcake from her roommate (Ruby Modine), encountering the British professor who she is having an affair with, and, FINALLY, heading to the frat party where – of course! – she gets killed. By the third time, I was more concerned about the lack of butter on my popcorn than how Tree was going to be murdered. I stopped taking notes. You’ll see all of these events a million times.

For the first half of the movie I sat on the edge of my seat. No, not because I was scared by the subtle appearance of the baby mask or the hospital chase scenes, but because I was ready to leave. Once Tree gets past the obligatory “what is going on?” phase, things got more amusing. The killer could be any character, and it was crucial to figure it out to stop her death day. Advancing into more of a comedy and mystery, Tree makes a list of all the potential culprits and then spies on them. But, just when you think you’ve figured out who the killer is, you probably haven’t.

There was a dad and two young boys sitting a couple rows ahead of me that hysterically laughed each time Tree was murdered. At one point in the movie there was silence—and I can understand why. Tree believes she figures out her killer, and once the suspect’s mask is removed, we’re introduced to a creepy man who escapes his hospital bed after murdering a police officer. The man has long straggly hair, eyes that pierce through you, and disfigured teeth. This was a slight moment when I was somewhat intrigued. But it was just another red herring—and by this point I had lost count.

Lacking originality, writers Scott Lobdell and director Christopher B. Landon literally dipped Groundhog Day in blood: the same scenario played over and over, with different variations each day. Groundhog Day is centered on middle-aged despair; a man who lives his life as though nothing he did mattered, since he was stuck in one place and everything was exactly the same. Whereas Happy Death Day’s theme is “today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Like, come on. I didn’t realize I came to a horror film to learn life lessons and become a better person.

The blonde-hair blue-eyed sorority princess makes Tree hard not to love, but just because she’s shallow, doesn’t mean the audience is. For the entire movie, I was trying to figure out if viewers were supposed to care about Tree or not. I know I didn’t. Ironically, towards the end of the movie, Carter jokes that Tree’s story sounds a lot like the plot of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day. I wasn’t surprised to hear that Tree had never heard of Bill Murray or Groundhog Day—now that’s classic.

Tree is just another one of those characters that we don’t need to see another movie about: an entitled white sorority sister who has no time for other people in her life. Artificial and reeking of privilege, she’s the kind of character I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at. That being said, credits to Jessica Rothe for giving the film her all. Her facial emotions are easily the best thing about the movie as she executed her scream queen intensity. Her acting kept the five people in the audience engaged, mostly.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I liked Tree or not, it’s her birthday – so she can have her cupcake and eat it too… or can she?

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