I think I must have heard about Happy Death Day before I saw it. And I’m pretty sure I scoffed and forgot about it. Make Groundhog Day into a horror film? I had only one question: why? Why would you do that? How did this get made? Groundhog Day is a classic and absolutely perfect the way it was. Anything even similar to it would immediately look like a rip-off. Is there, under any circumstances, the possibility that Happy Day can redeem itself? I went into this film expecting to tear it apart.
A college student relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.
Now I’m hardly an unbiased observer. I go into a movie with a rough idea of what I’m going to find and most of the movie is just observation and confirmation with me. I’ve been surprised one way or the other but it’s usually not hard to guess. And so it was with Happy Death Day. During the first act it was very easy to hate this movie because the main character and all her friends were completely unsympathetic. When she died the first time, I was unmoved. It didn’t help that all the trappings of Groundhog Day were there: the specific and recognizable lines that let the character realize they’ve seen this before, the main character predicting and playing with the fact that they know what’s about to happen, the montage of the character dying over and over when they realize they’ll just come back. Check, check and check.
Here’s the thing – as the film progressed I began to like it more and more. Despite myself, despite the fact that I was affronted by the fact that the premise was unapologetically identical to Groundhog Day, I grew to like it. Jessica Rothe was absolutely convincing as a complete bitch, a victim and repentant former-bitch. Israel Broussard was likewise charming as he grew from the unassuming minor role to a male romantic lead seemingly despite himself. Laura Clifton was also excellent. These characters (and the actors who played them) didn’t seem to be making up for their stolen premise. Instead they were just playing it straight, delivering the movie they were in to the best of their ability and no more. It was oddly effective.
Happy Death Day was definitely aware of its roots, though, and occasionally played with it. (spoilers in this paragraph) At one point they actually refer to the real film Groundhog Day. And, presumably to build suspense, they tried at a limit to the amount of times the main character could come back. She supposedly got weaker every time, though you wouldn’t know it because she also screamed louder, ran faster and smiled more with every incarnation. I wish they hadn’t done it that way. The only thing the ‘limit’ did for me was create unnecessary questions because they didn’t explain how it worked.
So is Happy Death Day worth watching? I’m torn, really, but probably not. Watch it on TV. See, on one hand it’s really well made. Like, strangely quietly competently made, enough to turn this review away from the rant I had intended. On the other, you could just as easily watch the far superior original. And would it have killed them to take off someone’s shirt? They had Caleb Spillyards right there (that boy was buff). I find myself certain that this movie came from a moment where someone, somewhere said “You know, Groundhog Day is a great film, but don’t you think it’s a little… I don’t know… dated? We could fix that.” Well it was good attempt.