The horror genre meets Groundhog Day in Christopher Landon's engaging new effort, Happy Death Day. We've seen this repetitious formula filter into the sci-fi/action genre with 2014's The Edge of Tomorrow, and it feels like such a natural fit for scary movies, making Happy Death Day's premise on odd combination of both familiar and original storytelling. But despite the film's creative foundation, the manner in which everything pieces together is less that satisfying.
When sorority queen Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up on her birthday in the dorm room of an underclassman named Carter (Israel Broussard), she instantly regrets all of her previous night's decisions. Yet, little does Tree know that Carter may be the only person on campus she can actually trust. As Tree continues on with the rest of her day, it ends in a grisly murder at the hands of a determined killer sporting a mask of the university's mascot. And when she awakes to the same morning routine in Carter's dorm room, she quickly finds herself forced to relive the day over and over again until she can correctly identify her killer.
Happy Death Day is short on scares and gore, evident by its limiting PG-13 rating. For an idea as clever and death-filled as this one, the film is sorely mishandled with its tame and subdued demeanor. Instead, Christopher Landon and writer and Scott Lobdell deliver a more teen-centric and fun endeavor than a truly horrific one. And as Tree falls victim to her mysterious killer over and over again, she gains a newfound perspective on life that helps transform a once cruel and superficial sorority sister into a more grounded and introspective young woman. This nice and pretty little bow that's tied to Happy Death Day's main character is certainly gratifying, yet a head-scratching journey to unlocking Tree's killer is riddled with red herrings and plot holes. While some of the story's misdirection works well in the moment, the most notable twist is in many ways unforgivably bad. Happy Death Day proves to be another immature horror effort that squanders an otherwise creative premise. Thankfully, a brisk pace and likable main characters allow Christopher Landon's latest to be, at worst, a tolerable experience.