Happy Death Day
Directed by: Christopher Landon
Written by: Scott Lobdell
Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Charles Aitken, Ruby Modine
Review by Stephanie Cooke
There are very few horror films that I’m excited to see. Not because I don’t like the genre but because I am a huge wimp. I jump at every single thing that happens in them, even when it’s not meant to be scary. I’m on edge the entire time. I like to think it’s because I’m not desensitized because I didn’t grow up watching scary movies (or any movies, for that matter). The truth of the matter probably lies in the undeniable fact that I’m a scaredy cat.
The trailer for Happy Death Day, however, was one such horror movie that actually caught my attention. It made me want to watch it… not an easy feat when I sit around preemptively thinking about how scared I’ll be. The trailer showed us what was basically horror Groundhog Day. A college student is forced to relive her death over and over again. The end of each day marks a different way that she dies and she struggles to solve the mystery of who killed her and why.
The why is easy— our lead character who is named Tree (yeah… I know but apparently it’s short for Theresa?) is an honest to goodness piece of poop. As she goes through the list of possible murderers, and those with the motive to kill her, she talks about the Uber drive she spit on, the other girl’s crushes/boyfriends that she’s slept with, and endless other things that she’s done to bring on the wrath of a killer. Her list is pretty lengthy and crossing off suspects takes a lot of deaths.
The majority of the film revolves around Tree and her sorority sisters (as well as one guy named Carter which we’ll come back to in a minute) who are not shockingly, also terrible people. What IS shocking is the dialogue in this film which completely took me out of the film. It sounded like it was written by a middle-aged man who’d never actually interacted with college-aged girls before.
I hadn’t looked up any information on the film. So, when Happy Death Day concluded, and the credits rolled, the name Scott Lobdell came up as the writer of the film. Now, for those of you who are comic book folk like myself, you may recognize that name from the funny books. Lobdell isn’t exactly known for the eloquent way that he writes women. Within comics, he writes women exactly as one might expect in the most stereotypical sense. His comic run for Red Hood and the Outlaws featured probably one of the most horrifying takes on a female character in the last ten years. Fan favourite Starfire was written and aimed at what felt like an audience of horny 13-year boys.
Tree within the film is written much the same way… you don’t know ANYTHING about her at all for the majority of the film other than she is a really shitty person. What is she studying in school? Who knows? Who are Tree’s actual friends? SHRUG. These things add up to prove a point that Tree isn’t even remotely a fully formed character. The writer didn’t care to elaborate on her.
Tree doesn’t even try to start solving her own murder until a few murders in. Only after a boy tells her that maybe it’s a thing she should try to do. I don’t know about you, but if I was continually murdered and woke up only to start the day over again, that would probably be the first thing on my mind: who the eff killed me!?
After she starts the process of figuring it all out though, she goes through a disgustingly predictable romance subplot where at one point she declares “If I ever make it to tomorrow, I’m going to have his babies!” in regards to a person that she previously had a whole ton of disdain for. She also goes through a very brief redemption arc where she tries to make herself a better person. This lasts for exactly one of her death days and involves her enthusiastically spanking a man with a big smile on her face. Of course, she met him before in previous death days. He’s never met her before which made it incredibly icky. That and the fact that she is randomly spanking a grown man in public and for no real reason– take your pick on which one makes you feel grosser inside.
As mentioned though, at times, the dialogue is incredibly painful to sit through. Imagine what young, hot, mean college girls would say if written by a white dude who has never spent any time around a sorority girl. And on top of that, imagine if they were written by an out-of-touch dude who was trying to guess at what the youths say these days. It was one YOLO away from my eyes being rolled so hard into the back of my head that they stayed there forever in a medical mystery the doctors would later name Eyerollingitis.
This movie had SO MUCH POTENTIAL. It pains me that the execution was so poor. I don’t blame the cast or the director for this one either… while you’ve probably heard of no one that’s in Happy Death Day, they did the best that they could with what they were given. The direction didn’t even seem bad either. The shots were cool. The performances were decent… no, it was the script here that ultimately let down the final product.
The story didn’t have a satisfying end at all and when we got there, I honestly just said “Huh… really? But like, why?” because it’s the most cliche ending possible and for the most cliche reasons. This review is filled with a bit more plot mentions than I normally do but I won’t go there and spoil the ending for you… I’ll resign myself to quiet annoyance until more people have watched the film.
Happy Death Day Blu-ray Special Features:
- Alternate Ending
- Deleted Scenes
- Worst Birthday Ever!
- Behind the Mask: The Suspects
- The Many Deaths of Tree
I know that what I’ve said about the film would lead you to believe that you shouldn’t see it but honestly, you should check it out. HOWEVER, you should check it out when it inevitably arrives on Netflix. You don’t have to pay to see it outside of your membership fees for the streaming service. It was fun even though it wasn’t entirely satisfying in the end. There are definitely way worse horror films that I have seen in recent years. At least Happy Death Day didn’t feel like it was taking itself too seriously amidst the atrocious writing.
This is the most contradictory VERDICT section ever. But really– check it out, but also: don’t pay money to see this.