Movie Review: “Happy Death Day” – Die. Repeat. Why?

Written by Jeremiah Greville October 19, 2017

Happy Death Day

When I first saw the trailer for Happy Death Day, I was genuinely intrigued. I was with a friend in the theatre for Blade Runner 2049 (an amazing film!), and we both turned to each other, excited. “It’s a time travel movie! I love those,” he said. I nodded and grinned. We were both so innocent. Happy Death Day is a time loop movie, like Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow. But it’s so much more, and so much less. It’s a strange, bizarrely uneven experience that skews uncomfortably between humour and horror. It’s a film with backwards morality and harsh, misplaced moralization — yet it’s still entertaining at times. And it’s a film that can be explained with two words: Scott Lobdell.

Happy Death Day stars Jessica Rothe as Tree (yes, “Tree”), a college student forced to relive her birthday – and DEATH day – over and over. Every night she’s brutally killed, and every day she wakes up to live through it again, a bit weaker. She’s forced to solve her own murder before she’s too weak to carry on. Happy Death Day is directed by Christopher B. Landon from a script by Scott Lobdell, and also stars Ruby Modine, Rachel Matthews, and Israel Broussard. The movie itself isn’t too bad – there are some genuinely funny moments, and the slasher bits gave the audience in my screening a thrill. But the movie suffers from an overabundance of cheap cliche and misplaced messages. And I place the blame squarely on writer Scott Lobdell.

“I’m having deja vu right now.”

Scott Lobdell is mostly known for his work in comic books. He was a writer of various X-Men books in the 90’s, and more recently for DC Comics’ “New 52”. Over his career, he championed the creation and place of a number of gay characters in comics, but has also been the subject of significant controversy. His treatment and handling of teenage characters has been questionable at times. And in 2013, he admitted to, and apologized for, sexual harassment while on a panel about LGBT issues in comics. From the outside, he’s a divisive and problematic figure. And as someone who’s read his work, I immediately realized the issues with Happy Death Day when I saw his name in the credits.

Happy Death Day

One of the most puzzling aspects of Happy Death Day is the way it moralizes and frames the main character. Tree starts out the movie as a ‘bad person’, and the narrative follows her personal growth into someone better. But a lot of what is supposed to define her as ‘bad’ is really…not. Or at least, not bad if you’re a modern-day college student. She’s sexually active with a number of guys, drinks, and has personal issues in her past. How terrible! Welcome to college! Apart from sleeping with her married professor, her only real transgression seems to be a shitty attitude. Again – welcome to college! Feeling like you’re in a time loop yet?

“I’m just supposed to keep dying?”

These things don’t make a person ‘bad’, yet Happy Death Day firmly judges Tree as a terrible person. A lot of this centres on her sexuality, with several other female characters feeling jealous or betrayed by her actions with men they like. The movie rarely questions the men in these situations, yet almost every female character is explicitly shown as flawed or immoral. When a male character reveals to Tree that they, in fact, DID NOT have sex when she was drunk, he’s treated like a hero. A friggin’ HERO for not sexually assaulting her! Yet through all of this you can tell that Lobdell and Landon are trying their best. They’ve just missed the mark – and decade – in a number of ways.

Happy Death Day

Before I knew who the writer of this movie was, I questioned whether they had ever been to college, or even had a conversation with a college-aged person. Happy Death Day feels like a movie written by a man who is uncomfortable around women, or has only ever seen them on television. You can tell that he tried, but Lobdell delivered something here that’s painfully transparent, insulting, and out-dated. The messages are clear: the nice guy gets the girl because he’s ‘nice’; the main character is bad because she sleeps around (and doesn’t like ‘nice guys’); sororities are evil; groups of young attractive women are bad. If any of those sounds wrong to you — and they all should — you can understand my problems with this film.

“See ya soon, a–hole!”

It’s a shame the film is problematic, because there are several good aspects to Happy Death Day. Jessica Rothe is delightful as Tree, and imbues the character with a lot of charm and personality despite her name. When the movie firmly decides to be comedic, it delivers laughs and fun moments at a good pace. And while I didn’t find Happy Death Day to be particularly scary, several young women in my viewing found the tenser moments where Tree is killed — or about to be killed — genuinely unnerving. It’s always interesting seeing how others react in a movie, and those scenes seemed to be some of their favourites. While not entirely original, the slasher moments were still on par with what you might expect from a movie like Scream.

Happy Death Day

As for the premise itself, the time loop aspect is…just okay. Happy Death Day doesn’t do anything really original with the premise, apart from switching the genre. And it doesn’t pay the same attention to detail that other time loop movies have in the past. There’s no catharsis to Tree’s deaths, and the nature of time loops is never exploited. By the end, she hasn’t spent a lifetime living or dying, and her growth feels a bit cheap and unearned. However, if you’re in the mood for a cheesy, CW-style stabathon to get you through Halloween, you can do a lot worse than Happy Death Day. Just be prepared for some out-dated moralization. Hey, it’s a bit like a time loop of your own!

My Rating: 5/10

Happy Death Day

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

Browse Archived Articles by

No Comments

There are currently no comments on Movie Review: “Happy Death Day” – Die. Repeat. Why?. Perhaps you would like to add one of your own?

Leave a Comment