Review: 'Happy Death Day' tempers slasher horror with feel-good message

Marcus Goh
Contributor
Happy Death Day (United International Pictures)

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you like the “Groundhog Day” trope.

Score: 3.2/5

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 96 minutes (~1.5 hours)

Happy Death Day (United International Pictures)

“Happy Death Day” is a slasher film incorporating the “Groundhog Day” trope, wherein the main character is trapped in a time loop.

A female university undergraduate is murdered on her birthday, and wakes up the next day to relive the same day over and over again. Unless she can solve the mystery of her murderer, she will be doomed to this time loop — one which will eventually end in her permanent death.

“Happy Death Day” is directed by Christopher B. Landon and written by Scott Lobdell. It stars Jessica Rothe (Tree Gelbman), Israel Broussard (Carter Davis), Ruby Modine (Lori Spengler), Rachel Matthews (Danielle Bouseman), Charles Aitken (Gregory Butler), and Rob Mello (Joseph Tombs). Surprisingly, it is rated PG13.

“Happy Death Day” went by a more suitable title earlier, “Half to Death”, although neither truly captures the spirit of what the film is about. It’s not as gory as one might imagine, nor does it have the sort of dark humour that the title implies. However, it takes a predictable premise and spins it off in an unexpected direction, teaching us all a lesson about being human in the process. For a slasher film, it has surprising depth, and it’s best enjoyed without any preconceived notions that the title might elicit.

Highlights

A surprisingly refreshing plot

Slasher films are not generally known for their plots, but “Happy Death Day” manages to earn its 96-minute runtime with a solid plot that drops revelations at every turn. While it does have some unintentionally misleading moments, the film does have a strong story that isn’t as hackneyed as you might expect. It takes the standard time loop trope, and adds its own slasher flick twist to it.

Well-executed themes and message

You wouldn’t expect a slasher film to have a positive message either, yet “Happy Death Day” manages to deliver a fairly insightful one without sounding saccharine about it. There’s no sappiness in its themes, and it deals with some fairly grim and realistic issues. However, it leaves you with feel-good vibes, and the film is an experience that enriches you.

Good-looking cast

If you don’t know any of the cast members, that doesn’t matter. They are all incredibly easy on the eyes, and the movie stills could possibly pass off as a catalogue of models. Aesthetically speaking, it helps in your suspension of disbelief, since it plays into everyone’s fantasy of college days with beautiful looking people. Virtually everyone could be an undergarment model, both male and female.

Happy Death Day (United International Pictures)

Letdowns

Corny, cheesy dialogue

Despite the fairly strong plot and positive messages, the dialogue descends into B-movie cliches at times. You can’t help but cringe at certain lines, which sound like they were left in by mistake. On the whole, the dialogue is passable — but there are a fair number of scenes that make you squirm with their predictability.

Average to subpar performances

There’s no standout performance from any cast member, with most of the character portrayals being standard fare. Several one-dimensional characters are played by less experienced actors, and it clearly shows in the final product. The acting could have been better, but it’s clear that the producers prioritised good looks over acting ability.

Conclusion suffers from a leap in logic

While the plot has a strong narrative drive, the finale suffers from a huge plot hole that is bluntly and blatantly avoided. Admittedly, it would have been boring to see how the plot point could be resolved. Still, a line or two addressing this issue would have been more far more elegant than avoiding it altogether.

Happy Death Day (United International Pictures)

The PG13 rating for “Happy Death Day”, together with its well-meaning messages and lack of explicit content, makes it a good choice for a family film with children above a certain age. The gorgeous cast also ensures that there’s something for everyone in the family.

“Happy Death Day” opens in cinemas:
– 18 October, 2017 (Singapore)
– 18 October, 2017 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Police & Thief”, “Incredible Tales”, “Crimewatch”, and “Point of Entry”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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