After all the shit that’s gone down this week, I know I’m not alone in needing a fun, stupid movie to see this weekend. Something high-energy and schlocky that—and this is key—has nothing to do with Harvey Weinstein and his grabby hands and his smelly ween.
Happy Death Day checks some of those boxes. Harvey Weinstein hasn’t involved in it in any way. And it sure is stupid. And it’s kind of fun. Ish. In parts. It’s not terrible. But it’s also not all that good.
In Groundhog Day: But With Murder This Time, shallow sorority girl Tree (Jessica Rothe)—yes, her name’s Tree—finds herself in the unenviable position of getting murdered on her birthday by some weirdo in a baby mask. It’s Live Die Repeat, take two—except I won’t call it Live Die Repeat, Doug Liman. I don’t care what you say, the movie’s name is Edge of Tomorrow—as each death resets her back to the beginning of her birthday. The whole “repeatedly getting murdered by a knife-wielding maniac” thing isn’t exactly a bucket of giggles, but the series of mulligans gives Tree time to figure out who’s trying to do her in. There are a lot of options: The sexy British professor she’s sleeping with, his wife, a guy she ghosted, the sorority queen bee rival, the roommate she’s constantly dismissive of… Tree’s kind of an asshole.
Now, in a normal world, if you know someone’s going to kill you by the end of the day—not a monster, not a demon, just a normal person—you Rambo your ass up, plant yourself in a room across from the door, and plug the motherfucker to kingdom come when he shows up to get his stab on. Then you take the mask off and figure out who BabyMan is. Boom. Movie’s over in 20 minutes. Instead, Tree—with the help of Carter, her geekdorable Man Friday whom she’s able to confide in her about her experience—makes the bewilderingly stupid decision of stalking everyone who might be the killer and then checking them off the list if she’s murdered while trailing them.
I don’t expect time travel or time travel-adjacent movies to be entirely free of logical inconsistencies, and certainly people in horror movies have a certain latitude when it comes to behaving like idiots, or else many horror movies wouldn’t even exist. But that is utter dipshittery of the highest order. Especially once it’s established that Tree keeps her death wounds from life to life—not in their OG blood ‘n’ guts forms, but enough that it’s clear that if she dies too many times, that’s it, game over.
Knock the motherfucking BabyMan out with a hammer.
What are you doing??????
You know he’s coming! Final Girl up and kill his ass!
That said, I’ve watched my share of bad horror movies—The Bye Bye Man, anyone?—and Happy Death Day is better than a lot of them just by virtue of being reasonably zippy and fun. Rachel Matthews in particular steals every scene she’s in as Danielle, the Regina George of Tree’s sorority, who spouts lines like “What is breakfast, Becky?!” and “the heifers at Delta Gamma—they’re into cosplay“—with spiteful glee. But the zingers aren’t zing-y enough or frequent enough to rescue Happy Death Day from mediocrity. It’s not just that the lead character, who treats people like shit and makes a dumb decision every 30 seconds, is nearly impossible to root for. There’s a second act red herring that’s utterly interminable—c’mon, we know the killer isn’t going to be [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS*], so can we just get on it with it? And there’s a bullshit “Tree learns to be a better person!” subplot that’s rushed and unbelievable. Granted, the “redemption arc” (such as it is) isn’t as bad as the one in fellow Groundhog Day takeoff Before I Fall, in which the lead was a heinous, bullying nightmare who never actually did anything to atone for her behavior. But a ten-minute detour into moralistic “wait… I’ve just realized I shouldn’t be an asshole!” territory is clunky and eyeroll-inducing on its own.
Want to see something this weekend that will make you feel good about the world? Watch Professor Marston and the Wonder Women and give Happy Death Day a pass.