‘Happy Death Day’ is a Surprisingly Good Character Study of the Evolution of a Shallow Horror Movie Victim

Tree is having the worst day ever… over and over again. You see, she’s a typical horror movie victim: Selfish, shallow, mean, pretty… the kind of person you can’t wait to see a knife go in and out of about a dozen or so times. However, her death isn’t the end of her story, it’s only the beginning as she Groundhog Days her way through the day she was murdered over and over again, hopelessly trying to find out who killed her and why and, most importantly, how to avoid it.

Full disclosure: Between the awful ad campaign and the internet ad blitz, this movie had all of the makings of the studio trying to market the heck out of a bad movie before the public found out that it was bad. Remember how, last year, you couldn’t get anywhere without an ad for The Bye-Bye Man running up to you and slapping you in the face? I dismissed Happy Death Day for that very reason… it looked dumb and the ad campaigns were trying to shove my face into its crotch.

Well, I guess it take a big and impressively hung man to admit that he was wrong and, so, I’m wrong. Happy Death Day is actually a pretty surprising movie, a comedy disguised as a horror movie, and I liked it quite a bit. Sure, it’s not that original with Groundhog Day and that terrible movie, Naked, having the same basic gimmick, but Happy Death Day is more tongue-in-cheek, it knows that it’s not that original and has fun with the premise instead using it not only as an amusing ode to the slasher genre, but also as a way to get a shallow and awful human being to set sail on the hero’s journey and become a better person. Jessica Rothe is a complete joy in this role as well with the little touches that she brings to the character. If you look closely, when the killer gets her in a couple of the loops, she looks more annoyed than terrified and it’s hilarious.

No, it’s not Doctor Phil, but it is a terrible person looking at life from a new perspective and realizing that she’s something terrible in the world and deciding to do something about it. What I liked about Happy Death Day is that this is a journey that feels believable unlike other movies that tell you that a character’s changed and you just believe it because a character says so. Tree’s evolution is actually one of the most endearing and wonderful things about this film.

What’s not wonderful about it is that Tree is also extremely stupid. Instead of running straight to the cops or getting on a bus and going as far out of town as she can, she bumbles her way through her own investigation that ends pretty much how it was supposed to. Even when it looks like she’s being smart, she’s doing stupid things. Who takes a cop hostage when she’s trying to get help? Seriously? It could be that the film was playing with the cliche of stupid girls doing stupid things in stupid horror movies, but if it was, it was vague and felt more in service to the cliche than a rebuke of it.

Still, Happy Death Day is a surprising if imperfect movie. It’s not going to be hailed as a classic and will probably struggle to be remembered, but for what it is, and for what it wasn’t, it definitely deserves a look.

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