Review: Happy Death Day

Groundhog Day Of Death is a messy affair that wildly swings between genres like an ADHD teenager jumping between apps on a phone. Jessica Rothe is a solid lead but is let down by a tonally erratic screenplay that wants to be all things but can’t stick the landing. There’s fun to be had, but it is a missed opportunity.

The last outing for Blumhouse this year after their stellar entries Split and Get Out comes to us in the form of Happy Death Day, a thriller/comedy/sorority drama/wannabe romantic/horror murder mystery type thing, which will mark a test for Jason Blum’s brand moreso than the film itself. It certainly comes off as the weakest of the three, but there are moments of fun to be had.

It’s Monday the 18th of some unidentified month in a fictional university dorm room and birthday girl Tree (Jessica Rothe) awakens in a strange dorm room after a big boozy night out. Suffering from an alcohol induced black out, she meets the tenant Carter (Israel Broussard), and quickly brushes him off as she commences her walk of shame across campus and back to her sorority. Through the course of the day, we meet her demanding frat sisters, a former insistent wannabe flame, and learn that she readily ignores her father’s calls and refuses to acknowledge her birthday. On her way to a frat party that night, a mask wearing maniac brutally murders her at which point she wakes up screaming back in the random dorm room she began the day in to relive the day until she can solve her own murder.

Director Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Paranomal Activity: The Marked Ones), working from a screenplay by Scott Lobdell (Man of the House), have an unruly beast of a story to try and unfurl here as it jumps between genres with such gay abandon. Feverishly jumping between House Bunny level comedy, Scream-lite horror (detoothed for a PG-13 rating in the U.S.), strangely distracting Dawson’s Creek level father-daughter drama, weird Time Traveler‘s Wife teen romance, all the while leaving its central heroine as one of the most incoherent screen creations of the year.

It’s not that there isn’t fun to be had (for the unassuming audience member), there is, but the piece itself doesn’t gel and comes at you more like a set of sequences from different films than one workable unit.

The biggest asset the film has is the presence of lead Jessica Rothe who imbues her Tree with an energetic sass that keeps proceedings moving. There’s nothing consistent about her, however, and the more ludicrous she gets the odder the film becomes. A particular sequence where she becomes Rambo is matched by another where she ostensibly becomes Alice from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. There’s no actual logic as to why she does it, but hey, that’s the conceit a film like this gives you – you don’t need any. That’s where the fun of it lies.

At 96 minutes, Happy Death Day does feel long. It’s certainly the biggest genre hopper of the year, and whilst it doesn’t achieve what it hopes to, Rothe provides a verve to keep the mayhem watchable.