Thoughts on “Happy Death Day”

“Happy Death Day” is a rarity among these cheap horror movies that I’ve been watching.

It’s actually good.

The main premise here is that the Alpha Bitch main character wakes up on her birthday after a night of drinking in the room of a guy that she doesn’t remember, and stumbles off to live out her birthday. At the end of it, on her way to a frat party, she gets confronted by a masked person who kills her. And then she wakes up in that same dorm room again, living out the same day again, where she gets killed again. Thus, she needs to keep living out that day over and over again until she manages to live through the day.

The movie, as seems standard for any of these movies with a supernatural bent, obstinately refuses to explain the supernatural elements. We never find out what’s causing her to relive this day or why. That being said, this movie has a better reason for not doing it, because it’d actually be hard to do given this set-up. How do you reveal the purpose of the looping to her without then making it too easy for her to figure out what’s going on? One of the main selling points of such a story is watching the protagonist struggle to figure out what’s happening. And revealing it to the audience just risks making it clear to us that the force causing this is either benevolent or malevolent, which will get us pondering its main end or wanting her to succeed at the real purpose, or else foil the force’s ultimate evil plan, neither of which are good. On top of that, it isn’t as important to do that for this movie as it is for others, as, again, it being a complete mystery actually supports the suspense instead of frustrating it. I would have liked to know what’s causing the looping, but have to admit that, in this movie, I don’t really need to know.

It also, like the other movies, spends a fair bit of time trying to humanize the lead character. However, this doesn’t come across as a waste of time like it often does in the other movies. First, the movie doesn’t stop the action or suspense to do it, or at least it doesn’t feel that way. The scenes where they bring up her backstory are scenes where both she and the audience need a break from the suspense and constant murders, a quiet time to recharge for the next intense scene. Thus, the more normal scenes are welcome rather than a distraction from the important things that are going on. Second, the main character actually needs to be humanized. She’s someone who is asked who might want to kill her and replies with, essentially, “Everyone who knows me.” While we should be able to sympathize with someone who is being killed over and over again, the movie could easily have gone with this being karmic retribution for her being such a terrible person. Those scenes reveal to us that her nastiness is more a facade than her actual personality, which is also highlighted by the fact that when she starts to realize that the day is repeating and is distracted by that she acts far nicer than she did before that (for example, saying “No, thank you” to the person asking for signatures instead of ignoring her or fawning her off on someone else).

The movie heavily lampshades Groundhog Day in its ending, directly referencing it and having her new beau prank her so that after she manages to survive to the next day she wakes up thinking that it has started over again. The movie also lampshades the primary way to deal with this situation — keep getting killed until you figure out who killed out — and then tries to seal the loophole by having each death physically effect her during the next loop, so that if she keeps dying eventually she’ll be too physically compromised to do much. This does deal with the issue and forces her to really try, but, really, constantly dying can’t be fun and so she has far more reason to solve this quickly than Bill Murray had in Groundhog Day, and he was desperate to move to the next day regardless. That being said, this is another thing that the movie lampshades, by having the effects carry over — most graphically, water spewing out of her mouth after she drowned — before she passes out after getting clunked in the head from a concussion where the doctor reveals just how badly her body has been injured by the previous loops.

There is an alternate ending, which I watched out of curiosity. In it, after surviving that day she’s in the hospital, and then gets killed by the wife of a doctor that she had been sleeping with. I’m glad that they didn’t use that ending, because I think it would have been a mistake. First, it would have been a very downer ending for a character that we had come to like over the course of the movie. But worse, it would have made the entire time loop pointless. The whole point of the loop was for her to survive her murder. For her to then die the next day might be ironic, but would really have felt like it would have been better if the entire looping had never happened and if she had just died. Yes, you can subvert expectations, but all this would do is make us wonder what the entire point of the loop actually was. And since the movie doesn’t explain what caused the loops, all that would have done is draw attention to that fact and make us start to ponder what purpose the force doing that could have had, with the most reasonable one being that it was malevolent or, at least, didn’t like her. And that’s if she doesn’t start the loop over again, which is possible given the set-up of the movie.

At the end of the day, “Happy Death Day” is a pretty good movie. It’s not flawless, but it moves well and has an interesting plot that drives things forward. Not only is this a movie that I’d watch again, it’s a movie that I’m almost tempted to watch again now that I know the ending to see if they put any other little hints about the killer — there’s the use of a birthday candle in one murder scene that might be a hint — in the movie that I missed (otherwise, the killer’s identity kinda comes out of nowhere). Like I said, this is a rarity: one of these cheap horror movies that’s actually good.

So, that’s it for my week of writing about these little horror movies. I have tons more of these to watch and write about, but that may not come up any time soon.

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10 Responses to “Thoughts on “Happy Death Day””

  1. Thoughts on “Truth or Dare” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] get any sense that it has any goal beyond “Torment and kill people”. While in “Happy Death Day” revealing the intentions of the supernatural force would have been a distraction and risked ruining […]

  2. Thoughts on “The Windmill” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] movies. The problem is that this ends up being a pointless ending. Like the original ending of “Happy Death Day”, doing this invalidates a large part of what happened in the movie. What is the point of having […]

  3. Thoughts on “Happy Death Day 2 U” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] “Happy Death Day” was a rare entry in my ongoing series of commentary on horror movies: it was actually a good movie. But while the quality of that movie did pretty much mean that I’d make sure to watch any […]

  4. Thoughts on “Scream Queens” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] also gives them at least somethings that make them a bit sympathetic. Chanel reminds me a lot of Tre from “Happy Death Day”, someone acting sociopathic but who might not actually be that way deep down. Chanel comes across […]

  5. Thoughts on “The Ghost Beyond” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] it avoids confusing us. That being said, if done properly it isn’t necessary. As I noted with “Happy Death Day”, we don’t find out what the deal is with the time loop, but that doesn’t matter because […]

  6. Why Do I Watch Horror Anyway? | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] some of them have indeed been good, or at least good enough to watch again.  “Happy Death Day” is the one I regard as the best out of the ones I’ve bought (shame about the sequel).  […]

  7. Thoughts on “Sinister 2” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Now, of course, a horror movie doesn’t have to explain its supernatural elements.  I liked “Happy Death Day” for not explaining it, and found that one of the issues with “Happy Death Day 2 U” was […]

  8. Thoughts on “Freaky” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Blumhouse movies have interesting premises.  And yet the only one that I’ve really liked is “Happy Death Day”, and only the first one.  That one made good use of the premise to tell an interesting story about […]

  9. Thoughts on “Oculus” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] that way, it reminds me of “Happy Death Day”.  And as such, it gets the honour of going into my closet of movies to rewatch again at some […]

  10. Thoughts on “6:45” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] I was looking forward to, because it promised to be another horror time loop story in the vein of “Happy Death Day”.  Now, while even the sequel to that movie wasn’t actually a good movie, there’s a lot […]

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