Review: Happy Death Day

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: A college student is forced to relive the day of her own murder over and over until she can solve the identity of her killer.

REVIEW: Of course it's a bit silly to analyze a movie like HAPPY DEATH DAY too strongly; to criticize it for being "juvenile" and "ridiculous" is to miss the point that it's just supposed to be escapist fun. For a little while, I was able to take my thinking cap off and be entertained (somewhat) by the movie's shameless ripping off of GROUNDHOG'S DAY's gimmick and the way it portrayed its lead character as someone so self-centered that she almost deserves her fate. But the fun only lasts so long, and about halfway through it became obvious that HAPPY DEATH DAY was content to be a one-trick pony, not able to make more of its premise than it already had. That's around the time it became repetitive and irritating.

To be sure, there's something fun about putting a horror spin on a fairly familiar premise. Sorority girl Tree (Jessica Rothe) finds herself living the same day over and over again, apparent punishment for her ungrateful, party girl ways (she drinks, sleeps around, is generally unpleasant to her friends). The twist here is, at the end of this relentless day she is killed by a psycho wearing a giant baby mask. Who is her murderer and why is he/she determined to kill Tree? (Could it be because her name is "Tree"?) Tree determines that solving her own murder is the only way to end the cycle, but naturally along the way she comes to appreciate the people who are nice to her and change her bitchy ways. A little, anyway.

Happy Death Day review Jessica Rothe Christopher Landon Blumhouse

The thing about this character is, she's not that terrible of a person, so it's strange the universe has specifically chosen her to atone for her selfishness. But no matter, Tree is actually pretty amusing for a good length of time, with Rothe delivering a highly expressive and engaging performance; she's easily the best thing HAPPY DEATH DAY has going for it. Unfortunately, director Christopher Landon and writer Scott Lobdell run out of things for her to do once Tree embraces the wild nature of her predicament. (She walks through campus naked! She farts in public! OMG!) This scenario presents countless possibilities, but the movie runs out of steam far too early, and feels like it's being pulled back when it should be surging forward. Part of this could be the rating. I'm not a believer that a PG-13 is automatically a bad thing for a horror movie, but HAPPY DEATH DAY is definitely hamstrung by it. Too bad, as I thought Landon's last movie, the very R-rated SCOUT'S GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, was rather fun thanks to how crude and rude it was able to be. HAPPY DEATH DAY really needs to be able to get rowdy and it never does.

Rothe is able to carry the movie only so far, and the bevy of suspects in Tree's circle is mundane to say the least. One thing missing sorely from the film is an interesting roster of supporting players, with Israel Broussard's nice guy Carter being the only adequately likable character. (He's the Andie MccDowell to her Bill Murray.) The movie is ostensibly a mystery revolving around the identity of Tree's killer, but none of the possibilities are intriguing; turns out we don't even really care about who it might be, whether it's Tree's annoying queen bee housemate, her fed-up father, her pompous doctor boyfriend or his suspicious wife.

The conclusion of the movie is what really drives it into the ground. Fatally, the solution to central mystery of the story is absurd and unsatisfying. The third act wastes a lot of time on a lame red herring that is never once convincing, and when the true villain is ultimately revealed your eyes may very well roll to the back of your head. The reasoning behind the villain's hatred for our heroine is really desperate, and the final showdown is laugh-out-loud funny in a way I'm not sure is intentional. (I did laugh, however, so maybe Landon is on to something.) Finally, there is no excuse for a ceaseless series of false endings that causes the audience to stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down again. I'm not joking when I say I thought this movie ended on at least three separate occasions, my patience wearing thinner with each fake-out. Not a good look when the audience is pleading with the movie to finally stop.

Happy Death Day



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About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.