Happy Death Day, the latest flick from Blumhouse Productions, has a wonderful premise. It’s basically a mash-up of Groundhog Day and Scream, wherein Tree (Jessica Rothe) relives the same day over and over, but the twist is that by day’s end she’s viciously murdered by a masked killer. It’s an elegant, simple – albeit not entirely original – conceit but sadly the film doesn’t really capitalise on its full potential for humour or horror.
The story starts well, mind you. Tree is an awful toxic person, selfish and judgemental and part of a vapid sorority of similarly awful women. This gives the film license to play the ‘everyone’s a suspect’ card and Tree’s frequently thwarted attempts at identifying her killer are quite funny in a cartoonish sort of way. Where the whole caper falters is during the second half, when the audience is suddenly expected to take the horror elements seriously (via the means of a contrived and nonsensical ticking clock device) and, worse still, adds heavy-handed moments of mawkish sentimentality that just don’t land and feel utterly out of place.
A lot of the film rests on the shoulders of Jessica Rothe, who proves a capable and expressive lead, even when the script doesn’t quite match her level of commitment. Director Christopher B. Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) seems comfortable with the comedic sections, but when it’s time to ratchet up the tension the scenes often fall flat, despite the striking-looking, demented cherub-masked killer’s inherent creepiness.
Ultimately Happy Death Day isn’t quite the film it could have been. An agreeable lead and some early chuckles can’t make up for a messy back half and a dearth of suspense. For a younger audience who, like the film’s protagonist, haven’t seen Groundhog Day or heard of Bill Murray there may be some light thrills. For the rest of us, however, this time loop will likely prove a little too familiar to fully appreciate.