PG-13 horror. Not only that, PG-13 SLASHER horror. With the basic premise, I guess it is hard to say what the kill count is because there's a lot of death that doesn't stick. The movie is frightening. But with the premise, every time the protagonist dies, she wakes up in a bed across campus. So we never actually see the knife plunge in because she always wakes up with a smash cut. There's language and an odd homophobia behind some scenes. It's weird. 2017...it was a different time. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Landon
This was not the plan. I'm currently showing my film club Groundhog Day. We just finished Russian Doll. Then, the next movie on my to-watch pile was Happy Death Day. I don't know why I like time travel stories so much. I like every variant of them. They make my brain hurt. Ever since Groundhog Day introduced the time loop to popular culture. I tried Googling the first appearance of the time loop in fiction and I couldn't find anything but Groundhog Day, so if I could get that clarified, I'd be grateful. But Happy Death Day hits a sweet spot of time travel logic without actually being as challenging as other entries in the trope.
The biggest thing that made me mad about Happy Death Day was the fact that it was spoiled for me by the sequel's trailer. I didn't search out the trailer for Happy Death Day 2 U. It was before a movie and I sat through it. In the first second of the trailer, it tells you who the killer is and their relationship to the protagonist. That wouldn't be so bad...if I hadn't purchased Happy Death Day for $5.00 at Meijer the day before. I knew that there was a sequel coming out. I knew that I liked time loop stories. It looked kind of fun, even if it would probably be a little stupid. And you know what? That's the best description I can give for the movie. It's actually really fun and it's also kind of stupid. But again, we're focusing on the fun part. That's the real takeaway. Realize this: I'm very skeptical about the PG-13 horror movie. Having a cast that looks like it is ripped from the CW. I didn't recognize anyone in the cast. The movie is packed full of archetypes. But the movie almost embraces what it is. If we put all of the teen-focused horror movies on a spectrum from dumb to smart, at the bottom we'd have something like Truth or Dare or The Nun. Again, dumb isn't bad, necessarily. I haven't seen either of those movies, but I know how to read the room. On the more intellectual front, we have Cabin in the Woods or Timecrimes. You would think that something like Happy Death Day would lean towards the former, but I think that might be a mistake. See, the characters of Happy Death Day are archetypes, thinly veiled at best. They are complete tropes. But Cabin in the Woods also plays with the idea of archetypes, so that doesn't completely fall apart. What archetypes provide is a shorthand for character development. Yeah,it's a little lazy, but I can also completely understand why a movie like Happy Death Day might want to forego real character development. This leads to a kind of icky moment in the grand scheme of things, but I'll talk about that later. When we deal with archetypes for our characters, that means that the plot has to do the heavy lifting. With such a touchstone movie such as Groundhog Day looming over this film, Happy Death Day needs to introduce some new elements to the trope. I know that television shows such as Supernatural ("Mystery Spot") have dealt with characters having to survive something trying to kill them on that day, but having such a concrete means of death is interesting. See, Groundhog Day doesn't really elaborate why Phil Connors is in his time loop until the end, and even that is inferred. Happy Death Day has a pretty solid way out of it. If she beats the bad guy, she is freed. The universe never tells her this, but it seems pretty easy to figure that out. I really like that concept. I mean, it's upsetting that she never can beat the bad guy by herself. You'd think that with the amount of prep work that she had, she'd be able to set a pretty rad trap. We get this teased a bit and it never really pans out. I think that we all think that we'd handle time loops better than the protagonists of these films, so I could complain about this all day and nothing would come of it.
Happy Death Day doesn't really offer that much in terms of changing the rules. Once you wrap your head around the fact that the protagonist has a clear way out, we kind of just follow the formula. So it is not as smart as the greats, but it isn't as dumb as the other stuff. But Happy Death Day also helped me realize that there are some elements to the trope that almost are necessary. Because Phil Connors was a terrible person, apparently Tree Gelbman has to be a terrible person. (I don't know why it didn't bother me when I watched the movie, but now it seems like the worst name ever committed to film.) Tree, unlike Phil, lacks nuance. Yeah, it's pretty obvious that Bill Murray is playing his jerk character that we've seen in lots of movies. But Phil is likable from the first moments we see him. He's terrible, but in a better Bad Santa way. (I don't like Bad Santa. Sorry, but I get the archetype.) Tree is wholly unlikable. I don't know if it is a gender thing. I keep making things political and I'm sorry, but this is an analytical blog versus a standard criticism blog. While Phil Connors is a jerk, but he's a lovable jerk. He tempers himself. He says mean things, but doesn't actively do mean things. He follows a social contract. When he's confronted by Ned Ryerson on the first day, he's annoyed, but functional. When Tree is bothered by anything the first day, she is consistently terrible to people. She speaks her mind terribly. Phil rags on people he knows. Tree will obliterate anyone in her way. Yeah, the movie gives the added motivation (the same thing that Shane Black does with Christmas) of making today her birthday. Of course Tree hates her birthday. It gives her motivation to act like a terrible person. But it seems like all Time Loop stories (that put the character through extended loops) needs to have the protagonist be a bad person. Through the course of an eternity, the character learns the value of goodness from being good. I can see how Phil Connors can learn to be a better person. That actually works. But Tree is murdered everyday. Phil, while he commits suicide and has dark moments, can go to bed and live a normal life. Tree is tortured every day. I think the movie kind of shies away from that. She takes mild damage everyday, which gets worse apparently. But she should be going insane. Tonally, the movie doesn't really allow for that. In fact, the idea that she takes damage is completely wasted. It gives a sense of urgency towards solving the crime, but it doesn't really follow its own rules. I also like that she becomes a better person, but that's the part of me that really likes mindless entertainment.
I said that there was a weird narrative that came out of using archetypes. The movie gives a really uncomfortable narrative on the surface. I will concede that the story here is a little more complicated, given the time loop element. But this movie has the very outdated "nice guy" archetype. Tree has an expectation that because she was drunk, it was okay to take advantage of her. She is mean to Carter, but that almost seems like it is because he is from a lower social class. When she discovers that Carter didn't take advantage of a nice girl, she's completely in love with him. That...is a dangerous message to spread. Why I kind of forgive it is because she gets to know Carter extremely well over the course of her time loop. That takes a lot of the edge off of that. But I would have liked (and this is problematic as well) that she loved Carter for getting to know him first. It might be a matter of forgiving him for, for lack of a better term, raping her. That's a very icky narrative and she might actually hate herself. When she finds out that that he didn't, that might be what puts the story in perspective. But Tree is weirdly cool with potentially being raped. Also, a lot of the story is based on the nice guy storyline. What message is that spreading? Carter is a good character because of his actions, not because he didn't take advantage of Tree. That should be universal, not something that makes him special. Carter is in love with her. That is almost stalker-y behavior. Why would he like Tree? After all, Tree has no idea who Carter is. Carter is not in the time loop. From Carter's perspective, Tree is someone who treats people terribly when she's drunk and expects people to take care of her. He's honestly just attracted to her because she's a pretty girl who seems pretty popular. Over the course of the day, once Tree reveals that she is stuck in a time loop, I can see something working out. But I think that one of the timelines has Carter and Tree sleep together and that's really weird from his point of view.
The actual killer is dumb and lame. I'm saying it. The movie didn't have a good answer for why the killer is the killer. Even though Happy Death Day 2 U spoiled the ending of the first film, I'm not going to do that. The movie becomes something beyond the typical Whodunit because no one really cares who the killer is, not even the movie itself. But that's what makes Happy Death Day kind of charming. This is definitely a movie about the journey, not the ending. At one point, we actually kind of forget who Tree is looking for and it becomes this character study. There's a really bad mislead. While the actual killer is a disappointment, the fake killer would be an absolute travesty. But the movie presents a fun time. Don't invest too much into who the killer actually is. It doesn't really make a lot of sense and it isn't fleshed out. But if you want to see Groundhog Day with stabbing, then this movie offers up a good time. Remember, it's kind of dumb. But it's not THAT dumb.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.