Despite tired premise, ‘Happy Death Day’ stays fresh

'Happy Death Day'
Courtesy of Universal Pictures Originally announced in July 2007, 'Happy Death Day' was originally going to feature Megan Fox and director Michael Bay.
'Happy Death Day'
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Originally announced in July 2007, ‘Happy Death Day’ was originally going to feature Megan Fox and director Michael Bay.

By Liyang Wan | Staff Writer


People sometimes wish that their lives could be frozen at a particular moment, but if the price to pay for such a fantasy would be going through that same day for all of eternity, maybe they would reconsider.

The new horror/comedy flick Happy Death Day is the latest movie to add its own spin to this dilemma. Starring Jessica Rothe, Happy Death Day follows Tree, a female college student who is forced to “get stuck” on her own birthday. What Tree doesn’t know, however, is that her birthday also happens to be her death day. When Tree notices that she is stuck in a cycle of death and rebirth, she realizes that the only solution to break her curse is to find her killer and bring whoever it is to justice before she dies again.

Tree switches between different tropes throughout the movie’s exposition, but she consistently is portrayed as a person in need of decency. She throws away the cupcake that her roommate (Ruby Modine) makes for her, wakes up in the room of a male student (Israel Broussard) whose name she doesn’t even know, has issues with her father (Jason Bayle) and even gets too close to her married professor (Charles Aitken).

Her behavior convinces the audience to stereotype Tree at the beginning of the movie, but this characterization allows the plot to develop her beyond a mean-girl mentality. Although every day remains the same, Tree changes the way she lives, and the whole movie follows this process of Tree’s growth into a mature woman. Constantly being reborn lets her understand the meaning of her life, and thoughtful and elaborately-designed sequences after each “time reset” help move the film along.

As in most time-resetting movies, the main character has to complete one mission to break the cycle. Happy Death Day is no different, which may lead some people to criticize the plot for being too simple. Furthering that opinion is that the film has all the problems of movies with a small, low-cost production. However, the elements of this movie work incredibly well, so much so that the day-one box office numbers made up the movie’s production cost. You can’t argue with that.

Tree’s development works fluently and logically from the beginning to the end of this film. Director Christopher Landon and writer Scott Lobdell build a strong character that is brave and positive. When Tree realizes that she is trapped in an infinite death cycle, instead of resigning herself to her fate, she chooses to fight instead. She creates multiple plans to find the murderer and even sacrifices her life in order to save innocent people. The plot seems simple, but Happy Death Day is still an intense thriller that will most excited and scared.

Even though the movie is rather predictable (and the trailer does spoil a bit of the film), Landon does subvert the audience’s expectations in some humorous ways. It’s easy as the audience to fall into the death-and-rebirth pattern with Tree, but there are a couple tricks to keep viewers questioning themselves, which is great. That being said, there are a few plot holes in this movie. For instance, the film does not explain why Tree always wakes up on this birthday in particular. It also does not tell the audience why Tree can continue living after stopping the killer. However, it’s obvious that the plot is deliberately set up like this because that information is more-or-less unnecessary.

Happy Death Day, like others that use the same premise, emphasizes the idea that everyday is the first day of the rest of one’s life. Unlike its contemporaries, however, this film manages to stand out as a fantastic example of being able to be both redundant and refreshingly unique. It has to be said that the 96-minute transition from suspense to thriller then to romantic comedy in this small-budget movie does surprise you.