'Happy Death Day' review: Fun repetition
On her birthday, Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up nearly naked with a hangover in somebody else’s dorm room.
The room’s owner (Israel Broussard) offers his name as a consolation for what seems to be a wild night while she hurries out of the dorm out of fear of being seen with a random geek. Tree makes her way to her sorority’s house, and in the process, rejects an environment advocate’s request for pledges, a suitor’s pleas for an explanation as to why she hasn’t returned his calls, and ignores another girl’s pleasant gesture.
She goes about her day, maltreating her roommate, poking fun at another girl’s diet, and seducing her married professor. By the end of her birthday, she has established herself as a mean girl, one that the world would probably not miss.
It therefore doesn’t come as a big surprise that she eventually gets violently murdered, with each and every person she spent a few minutes with becomes a plausible suspect.
After dying, Tree wakes up again on her birthday, again in the same dorm room, again nearly naked with the room’s owner offering his name as consolation. With an opportunity to solve her own murder, she repeats the day’s events, slowly inching closer to the identity of her killer.
Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day is a murder mystery by way of the same conceit used by films like Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day (1993), Duncan Jones’ Source Code (2011) and Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow (2014). The film is helped by the fact that the conceit has been used so many times, it has become open to satire and parody.
Happy Death Day works best when it is conscious of its very own absurdity, when its unfortunate protagonist herself becomes so accustomed to dying, and when it is aware of its own limitations. The film is thoroughly entertaining. It is adamantly a slasher flick, but one that upends its genre’s conventions by literally grounding its pleasures on the pains of repetition.
Clever but limited gimmick
Repetition however has its many pitfalls.
Happy Death Day suffers from running on the diminishing fumes of a clever but limited gimmick. There is an attempt to cultivate a story, a graduation of Tree’s moral fiber whenever she perishes. However, the film’s ploy still resounds, lessening the chances of whatever ambition it has to be anything more than a novelty act.
Landon aptly avoids being gruesome with the death, perhaps to lessen the misogyny that already is latent in most slasher films and would have been enunciated if the murder victim is the same woman over and over again.
However, Happy Death Day still thrives on genre clichés and stereotypes. Its comedy is rooted on them. Even its resolution is grounded on a fealty to simplistic characterizations and shallow motives.
Still, Happy Death Day mostly succeeds.
It isn’t new. It doesn’t pretend to be. It just makes most of its borrowed ingenuity by being unobtrusively fun as possible. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' 'Tirad Pass.' Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.