Main cast: Jessica Rothe (Theresa “Tree” Gelbman), Israel Broussard (Carter Davis), Ruby Modine (Lori Spengler), Rachel Matthews (Danielle Bouseman), Charles Aitken (Dr Gregory Butler), and Rob Mello (Joseph Tombs)
Director: Christopher B Landon
Movies from producer Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions had been more cringe than anything else in the last decade, although a frightening number of them make obscenely huge profits, but Happy Death Day is an unexpected, delightful gem. Oh, it’s not perfect, but it works on a fundamental level.
Theresa Gelbman or Tree has never been the same since her beloved mother died a few years ago, and her relationship with her father becomes increasingly distant as the years pass because being in his company only reminds her of her grief. She tries to lose herself in partying and having a good time, and ends up becoming a really obnoxious mean girl. When this movie opens, it is her birthday. She wakes up from a really bad hangover in the bed of the nice nerdy guy Carter Davis, who kindly takes her in and lets her sleep in his bed while he sleeps in his roommate’s bed (the roommate, poor thing, has to sleep in his car). She ignores him, ignores her father’s phone calls, throws the cupcake her long-suffering roommate Lori makes for her into the trash, has an aborted rendezvous with the very married Dr Gregory Butler (interrupted by his wife knocking on the door of his office, naturally), and then gets killed by a masked fellow before the night is over. Ha, ha, ha.
Wait, she wakes up again, that very same morning. Soon, Tree realizes that she’s doomed to relive each day, trying to avoid the killer only to end up dead anyway, until she either finds a way to avert her fate or finally dies from the accumulated physical trauma inflicted on her body as a result of so many deaths.
Yes, on the surface many things here are predictable: Tree realizing that she’s a mess and becomes a better person, she falls for Charlie and makes up with her father, and of course, she finally discovers whom the killer is and kicks ass to put an end to that villain’s nonsense. If anything, the script is a mess. Tree’s redemption is too heavy handed for my liking, and I feel that it really falls apart in its late act. I have no issues with the identity of the killer, but I feel that the movie rushes to wrap things up in a ridiculously tidy and convenient manner after the villain is disposed of.
Still, the protagonist is just too adorable. I know, Tree is a terrible person in the beginning, but Jessica Rothe plays her character with just the right amount of confidence tinged with vulnerability. As layers of her character peel away as the movie progresses, she is easier to empathize with. Also, it helps that Tree kicks ass. She may need a little nudge in getting started on investigating the identity of the villain by Carter, but once she is on a roll, she never needs rescuing – in fact, she does everything on her own. And in a somewhat realistic manner too, as she doesn’t just transform into some all-talented super-capable person overnight. I find myself rooting for Tree before I realize what has happened, and I believe it’s mostly due to Ms Rothe’s capable performance. Where the script is heavy handed, she injects some nuances and subtlety instead, and Tree is all the more better for it.
Israel Broussard is cute enough to be the geeky guy, although he doesn’t have much else to do here. The rest of the cast are generally few-scene wonders, not that it is their fault as the movie demands that they go through the same things over and over throughout the movie, with only minor variations. The true star of the show is Jessica Rothe, and she makes the best and the most out of the opportunity.
Happy Death Day is indeed one of the happy kind.