HAPPY DEATH Day is billed as Scream meets Groundhog Day, which is a great idea. The Groundhog Day motif worked really well in 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow and in an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It is a concept that lends itself well to a slasher movie.
The studio that has made this film, Blumhouse, has had huge success with high concept, low budget, horrors, such as the incredibly successful Paranormal Activity and The Purge movies as well as the particularly enjoyable Get Out.
So the movie starts with our hero Tree. That's her name. It's never commented on. It's really weird. Waking up hungover in a boy's room, she cannot remember much from the night before. We follow her as she goes about her usual day, going to class, meeting the teacher she’s having an affair with, avoiding her dad's phone calls. We also learn it's her birthday. Towards the end of the day she’s on her way to a party on campus and is murdered. Then she wakes up again in the boy's room hung over. Her life will continue like this till she finds out who the killer is and makes it through the day.
The main problem here is it is not funny enough to be a horror/comedy and it is not scary enough to be a good horror. I re-watched Scream recently and forgot how brilliant and scary that opening scene with Drew Barrymore is. It's a masterclass in suspense. There is none of that here. The problem is the film makers are trying to have their cake and eat it, selling this as a slasher film but with muted scares and violence. I was actually surprised to see it was a 15A, it feels like a 12. Not that violence is important for a horror movie, but in this case it is hard to really fear for Tree. She gets stabbed, cut to black and her eyes open and her day begins again. There is no urgency here.
One admirable part of the film is to have the lead character so unlikeable that the concept that anyone could be the killer really works. Everyone in the movie should want to kill this awful person. Even I wanted to kill her while watching this. The actress Jessica Rothe actually does quite a lot here with a pretty average role. She’s very watchable and will probably do some great stuff with decent material.
So the one thing that really annoyed me her name is “Tree” what is that short for? Theresa? Katrina? Honestly this to me was the biggest mystery of the film. What a unusual narrative choice to give her such a weird name and never acknowledge it or even use it as a punchline or a pun. Will there be a director's cut where her full name is explained? Unlikely. Would I watch it if there was? No. I might click on to the Wikipedia page about the movie? I guess. It is a pretty weird name. So in some ways this movie has affected me more than I thought. I mean her name is Tree.