Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) has never been the sweetest girl in school. After losing her mom three years prior, Tree retreated back into more surfaced territory, submerging herself in the shallow world of Kappa Kappa Gamma at her college, sleeping with her professor, snapping at her roommate, shaming girls for the size of their meals, and spreading gossip about her sisters all the while. Tree was far too busy getting wasted and stealing her friends’ love interests to come to terms with her unpleasant feelings of grief, or any of the actions she committed while trying to lose herself in the spins. That is, until the day she was murdered – over and over again.
At first, it was less like déjà vu and more like the same old Tree up to her naughty shenanigans again. There was the drinking to excess, the blacking out, the waking up in a stranger’s dorm room with no recollection of how she got there or what the guy’s name was that she woke up next to – just another nameless notch on the bedpost at the end of another graceless night. Just another reason she’s late to class and donning leather pants at lunch. The only difference is, today happens to be her birthday – a day she’d rather forget, since it happens to also be her mother’s birthday. But how was she to know that her birthday would also be the day she was to be viciously killed? And, to make matters worse, how was she to know that today of all days would be the one that she would live over and over, forcing her to face her own death, in several different ways, using many different weapons, over and over?
This is Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day, and as you’ve probably already guessed, it’s basically like Groundhog Day if Bill Murray were brutally murdered every single night before he woke up to the tune of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” the following morning. In many ways, it’s a fun little teenage horror movie that would fit in well with the old who-dun-it style of ‘80s slashers like The House on Sorority Row and Prom Night. After all, it has a masked killer who stalks his campus prey with a butcher knife and an eye for opportunistic loud parties and long strolls in short skirts. All it needs is a hand-drawn movie poster and a higher kill count.
Still, the film has its issues. Despite the fact that the audience is made aware that Tree’s mom died three years ago, we’re never told how she died, or what purpose her mother’s death serves in this strange repeating scenario, or even why this day keeps repeating like it does. You would think that the fact that she and her mother share a birthday, and that particular birthday is the same day that Tree is being killed over and over again would serve some sort of purpose in the storytelling, or come back around somehow at the end, but you’d be wrong. It doesn’t do much besides create sympathy for a character who might otherwise be unrelatable.
It’s also hard to call it a slasher movie when all of the kills are either off-screen, or Tree wakes up again to find herself in the same dorm room the minute that she’s about to be stabbed by her baby masked bandit again. It may feel like a classic Amy Holden Jones or Carol Frank massacre movie at times, but that’s the one defining trait that truly separates it from its predecessors. It’s a pretty hard PG-13.
However, despite the fact that it’s not quite as bloody as this jaded horror fan would like, it’s still a fun spin on the old day-repeating-over-and-over gag. Tree only has so much time each day to try to figure who is trying to kill her, why, and how to put an end to this madness before she wakes up to that horrible ringtone yet again, and it’s pretty funny watching her deal her sorority sisters and the rest of campus once she realizes that nothing she does matters because no one will remember it the following day. It’s no Saw, but it’s an entertaining scary movie for the Halloween season, even if it is slightly more appropriate for a younger crowd.