Happy Death Day (2017)
Unlimited amount of lives, unlimited amount of chances to find the killer
So you take something like Groundhog Day, and then you slap mechs into it and you get Edge of Tomorrow. Well, that premise is sound for plenty of other things surely enough, and it wasn’t unfathomable that it would be given a more literal horror twist in the form of a slasher. Of course, the bane of the slasher also comes with it, carrying a PG13 rating on it’s shoulders like the giant clock that keeps resetting over the movie. Will it offer enough of those horror and slasher elements to appease those coming at it for some cheap thrills? Will it provide enough other elements to satisfy anyone coming at it desiring an interesting retread of the form lain previous? Will it be something that you can watch and watch and watch? Don’t get psyched out by the fake-out universal skips, tonight we got our hands on Happy Death Day.
The premise is going to be functionally a bit similar to what a person might think of the other movies of it’s type, where one person experiences the same day over and over. It’s been a while since I saw the old woodland animal variant, but gauging things off of our favorite title with two names that uses the same concept, it’s going to bring with it similarities. Of course, that one gave itself aliens and awesome war suits with plenty of action-filled scenes to take you through the many player-lives. Here, we get a different take - horror. Honestly, I’d almost prefer to call this one a mystery first and foremost, as although there are some horror elements used during its run, the large weight of it feels far more like a whodunit that we are stuck repeating until we get it right. The horror can at times feel pretty well done - they do a good job setting up some quick surprises or some good atmosphere moments, using familiar tricks like obscuring angles or changing cuts to do quick little jump reveals, or building up tensions by drawing out ever so slightly the build up to the payoff we expect. The slasher side of the horror element on the other hand feels a bit more out of place, and I guess it’s really just my fault for trying to label it as such. The body count is really at any given time no higher than three, and at least one each time ends up being our looper - but given that we do have a costumed evil who likes to stab with a knife, I just can’t help consider it at least in part a slasher kind of movie regardless of how dumb it might be to do so outside of my mind.
The villain works pretty well here, although I’m honestly just not feeling the mask. The logic behind it is sound - the in-movie school mascot is apparently a big dumb baby head, so the killer wears a big dumb baby head mask and in turn opens it up to possibly being everyone and anyone because of it. Parts of the mask are kind of creepy, sure. It’s a big emotionless piece of non-revealing plastic that doesn’t move or change, making it really easy to hide everything and imply that same sort of creepiness that one might find in a porcelain doll. Of course, the problem is a big goofy-faced baby isn’t exactly frightening itself, and makes me feel more like it’s some Tom and Jerry cartoon than something I should be afraid of… but in a way, that works in it’s own way. See, the movie plays things pretty straight most the time, but at the same time it does have a bit of levity and fun with itself at times, such as the old naked strut (that doesn’t reveal anything, what with that PG13 rating) or a sudden unexplained pair of night vision goggles and commando paint. This gives it a bit of a “we know our concept is a bit goofy, and are just going to do our thing” feel that is appreciable for enjoyment levels and serves as a bit of a contrast to the few times when spooks hit the fan and it actually feels like a horror movie. The main power of the villain however is the mystery element it brings to bat.
And the mystery is pretty good. I’ll be honest, not every person here is going to come close to being fooled by any of the fish floating about this sea of intrigue, and will hone immediately in on who the culprit is going to end up being in the end. I looked at one character and said to myself “probably going to be that one” and wasn’t wrong - but at the same time it does a good job of setting up the people it wants you to believe are it each time it tries to do it, which gives just enough room to get that little doubt wiggle in your head - before usually it promptly squashes it by revealing the person to not be the killer when the killer shows up. It even uses that mystery element in multiple ways, particularly during the suspect scratch off montage, where most leads lead to comedy with a punch line of “surprise killer attack” after. As always, comedy is going to be a bit hit or miss for some, being perhaps a bit rude for some without straining too far from the realms of PG13 whilst still being about a college campus with frats and stuck up attitudes.
The other fault of being set on a modern college campus setting is the real lack of super elaborate costumes to feast the eyes upon. The most un-ordinary thing you see is the killer, but even then the outfit there is largely just a hoody wearing killer with a big plastic baby face. Perhaps more out of place is the “nighttime ranger” outfit the main wears during the montage set though. The costumes are believable and do their job of filling in the world as believable regardless, and the repeat day actually leaves a lot of room for using the exact same costumes over and over, but they do occasionally mix a different skirt or shirt in there, perhaps a leather jacket at times just to spice life up a little bit. The benefit of everyone wearing the same costumes over and over is you get to the point that you don’t have to see or hear the person, just their outfit and you know who it is. The settings themselves all work fine for what they are, with a few of them doing well for the more horror themed elements while the rest just goes about feeling like a movie-typical college campus full of parties and pomp.
The effects also have a bit of a rough go here. What we get isn’t bad, usually look just fine. For a movie about someone getting killed repeatedly though, most the horror-minded probably go in here expecting to see some mean deaths - until they look at that rating. It’s pretty standard fair for the rating in all honesty. Every now and then you might get to see someone get shot, or a spattering of blood or such, but largely you get a cutaway to the start of the day every time a death would happen without too much detail. It’s used pretty fancy at one point with a baseball bat to show a smooth transition into the starting point - but it’s made a bit less sensible when you figure that it really probably shouldn’t be the day starting dorm room until after she’s already sleeping. People look specifically for an effects extravaganza probably aren’t in the right place here, but if you expecting something a little more subdued you’ll probably be fine and enjoy yourself.
The actors here do a pretty good job. There’s the occasional meh-tier delivery, but more than half the time it’s near impossible to tell if it was a bad delivery or just the character being written like a cardboard movie college frat kid cutout. Our main gets to have fun doing a wide slew of things, from happy to crazy to just beat right down, with more than a few moments of actual boss stepping out to flex some guns. The support characters all work, but really I don’t feel that they necessarily add to the mystery by actor so much as the story gives them enough to work as sketchy over the acting on display. Audio and audio-related effects are balanced well and sound great. Image quality in general is pretty darn good as well. Despite the way it goes about the story and scenes, I also feel that the same relatively generic message of the rinse-and-repeat loop movies remains intact and fine - popping in those moments of spelling out possibilities like “maybe use it to better yourself” or commenting on how the repetition is really starting to enlighten you of your own character.
This is fun, and completely not afraid to bail before it overstays it’s welcome. Even at an hour and a half, it still feels like it just breezes right on by. It’s a bit simple, but tries something new with the repeat concept that works relatively well, even if it’s catered more towards a wide audience than what it potentially could have been if it went full-blown horror with a mass budget. This could be a good thing, honestly, as sometimes budget and aiming for that niche really just hurts in the long run. It’s a fun movie, cheerfully murderous and feels a bit reminiscent of the old cat and mouse cartoons. If I was to sit down and choose one movie of the type to have to watch on a loop, I’d probably still go for Live. Die. Repeat. but it’s more for the fact that it has a lot of action and mechanical combat suits over any faults of HDD. If you see the trailer and go “could be fun” then you’ll probably enjoy it as a rental at least, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some want to keep coming back to it.