I'm not usually much of a fan of horror or slasher films; watching people get killed or seeing scary stuff just for it's own sake doesn't hold that much appeal to me. However, I have enjoyed such films when they had other things going for them, or when they were just solid films overall that didn't rely on the horror or gore aspects to carry them. Or when they were just silly tongue-in-cheek fun (coughJasonXcough). So when I saw the trailer for Happy Death Day, I thought it looked to be worth a shot.
Let me warn you: while this film fits the general horror mold in some ways, it's not particularly scary and there's not much blood or guts, so if you're looking for a gory slasher or terrifying horror film, you might not enjoy this one. I loved it.
Obviously "not having stuff" doesn't get me to love a movie. No, I loved it because it was fun, had great characters with decent depth, and a nice story. If you like Groundhog Day you'll probably enjoy this movie. Not because it borrows the central gimmick, but because it's also a story about growth and change. This isn't just a surface-level imitation of Groundhog Day, it's a loving homage that's not afraid to openly admit it's inspiration.
Sometimes when watching a "scary" scene I feel scared, sometimes I'm not scared but I'm tensely riveted to the screen, watching to see what happens. The rest of the time I'm usually just waiting for the scene to end so we can move on. It's very rare that I'm neither scared nor tense but I genuinely empathize with the character's own fear; this film managed it. I take that as a testament to Jessica Rothe's performance, which I was very impressed by. At times she was hateable, others she was likeable, pitiable, or relatable as the script called for. I don't think the film would have worked half as well with a lesser actress.
While no-one else in the film had nearly as much screentime, every member of the cast did their job just fine. Ruby Modine deserves mention for her performance as the kind roommate trying to connect with the difficult friend. I liked Broussard, I thought he managed to communicate his character's archetype without slipping into one-note stereotype territory; he felt real is what I'm trying to say. Plus I thought he had good chemistry with Rothe.
I think Happy Death Day deserves an 8/10: it's a good movie that looks a bit like a slasher, but isn't really.
I could understand if some people end up feeling disappointed by the killer's relatively mundane identity; there's an expectation that the time-loop is the killer's doing, in order to torment Tree. Personally I was not disappointed, I thought the reveal worked well, even if Lori wasn't a very intimidating killer.
So what's up with the time loop then? Is it a bad thing that it's never explained? I don't think so; while having a solid reason for a time loop can certainly work well, I think it lends itself better to less grounded movies; things like Edge Of Tomorrow where it's less about the characters and more about the situation. Happy Death Day, like Groundhog Day, is a story about personal growth, and like Groundhog Day it doesn't try to shoehorn an explanation in, which would just distract from the important stuff anyway.
However, if we are to discuss possible reasons, I can think of two. First off there's simple divine intervention; a "Christmas Carol" sort of chance for the character to mend their ways. Second, there's superpowers: unlike Groundhog Day, Tree only ever went back in time after dying. So perhaps she just has the superpower of going back in time if she dies? It basically fits. This could become more relevant seeing as they've announced a sequel; I feel like it there would be more pressure to come up with an explanation if it is to happen a second time.
While seeing Tree fall for Carter works, especially since he's about the only person there supporting her and she has the opportunity to see that he is a good person, the romance was less developed from his side. I mean, he helps out this completely wasted girl, she starts babbling something and runs off, pushes someone out of a window then later tells him some crazy story about time travel. I'm not really seeing a strong reason for him to want to bond with her. Of course it's perfectly reasonable to assume that he was interested in her before - I would say the way he treats her when she first wakes up suggests so - and like I said, they had good chemistry, so overall it doesn't bother me too much.
Seeing as the killer didn't have any supernatural powers, it raises the question of how she was always able to find and kill Tree. I feel like I'd have to watch this film more than once in order to fully parse exactly how things worked out and how much sense it really makes. For now I'm giving them a pass since I don't think any potential forced contrivances in this area would detract much from the strength of the film; I'm willing to accept that, as her roommate who also worked in the hospital, she knew enough about Tree's location to be able to track her down. Perhaps I'll come back and write more on this topic in the future.