By: Mark Farmer, Entertainment Writer
Christopher B. Landon’s Happy Death Day arrived in theaters this past Friday the 13th, starring Jessica Rothe as a college student who finds herself reliving the same day over and over again, each time being murdered by the same mysterious figure.
Audiences may recognize Christopher B. Landon’s name from the myriad of other films he’s written over the years- In particular, Paranormal Activity 2 through 4, as well as the spin-off film Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. This should really set the stage for the kind of film to be expected from Landon’s Happy Death Day. That is to say, Happy Death Day is a vapid, predictable movie whose sheer premise is enough to make it a box-office hit.
The film starts, as shown in each heavily-marketed trailer for the movie, with a “day in the life” of Tree Gelbman. Waking up from a drunken one-night-stand, she meanders through campus life with an abrasive attitude, willfully ignorant of the other terrible people she surrounds herself with, and completely uncaring towards those who truly want to help her. Minutes into the film, every single audience member knows exactly what’s going to happen approximately one hour later: Tree’s experiences will result in one final loop through campus, righting all of her wrongs and finally acknowledging the people in her life who mean well, while pulling hilarious pranks on those who really earned it.
Sound familiar? This heavily-utilized trope is the basis for many similar science fiction films, and while it may not be the whole picture for Happy Death Day (as murder is a key part of the film), it is truly the core of its story, and it’s an unbearable part of nearly every scene in the film. Tropes in movies are fine, as long as they aren’t the crux of the film. Unfortunately, in this case, they are the whole movie. I found myself writhing in my seat as each character in the movie reacted exactly as I expected towards Tree’s romantic advances and emotional character development.
Make no mistake- Happy Death Day does not lampoon any aspect of these stereotypical films; Instead, it retreads all of the same cheap teen drama tropes (predictable scenes, lines, plot scenarios, and story development) with nothing more than a vague wink that Landon and company know what they’re doing. Stars Jessica Rothe and Israel Broussard are magnetic, and their on-screen presence is intriguing. But every line they’re given, every scene they’re in, anything they say or do is just marred by this unbearably dull plot.
The best part of the movie, and undoubtedly the characteristic that will draw in most audiences, is the murder-mystery. Not just the “whodunit,” but the joy of finding out how Tree is murdered on each day. In addition, as many films before it have proven, the time-loop aspect allows for Tree to branch out and really pull some crazy stunts- Including, yes, a nude walk through campus (Again, undoubtedly drawing in most audiences). But these parts of the movie are minuscule in comparison to the dozens of other insanely predictable portions of the film that are unbearable to watch.
There really isn’t much worth seeing in Happy Death Day. It truly is a college-aged Disney Channel Original Movie, without any of the nostalgia. If the plot doesn’t already seem self-explanatory from any of the film’s marketing, it may be worth a watch. Otherwise, absolutely do not bother.