Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up one Monday morning, but she is not in her own bed, she is in somebody's dorm room at the university she attends. Who is this guy, and why can't she remember sleeping with him last night? Oh, right, he introduces himself as Carter (Israel Broussard), and as she gathers her clothes she pulls some of her most typical behaviour, dismissing the boy and storming out of the room making it clear she never wanted to speak to him ever again. Trying to shake off her hangover, she returned to her sorority house and tried to whip the morning back into shape, aware it was her birthday and ignoring the fact. But it is more than her birthday, far more...
Yup, it is her death day as well, for once she reaches the end of the day and she is walking through the campus late at night something terrible happens: a masked killer straight out of a slasher flick appears and proceeds to stab Tree to death. Then something bizarre follows: she awakens in the same bed in the same dorm room as she had that morning, so what it going on? The answer to that was promised in the sequel, but this came across as something of a sequel itself, as if the mechanism, be it cosmic or Godlike or a quirk of temporal physics, that sent Bill Murray repeating himself in the classic comedy Groundhog Day had recurred and were afflicting the heroine now.
There was some almighty cheek in adapting the basic plot of one of the most beloved movies of the nineteen-nineties into a horror film, but Happy Death Day acknowledged it was not exactly the most original concept in the universe, even to the point of namechecking Harold Ramis's 1993 effort in a jokey coda. Screenwriter Scott Lobdell, who was best known as a comic book author, most specifically on his X-Men run, practically taunted those who held the original sacred with his allusions to its narrative points, though he could just as easily have referenced the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode that also utilised this technique, especially as it had just as much in common.
In that television instalment, titled Cause and Effect, the Starship Enterprise was caught in a time loop that saw it destroyed, and the more that happened the more the crew became aware that something very serious was awry, and so it was with Tree, though she catches on far quicker when the Groundhog Day method of creating memorable moments for her to recall was put into play. This was important because its inspirations were so well known, even if you had not seen them, that most would have twigged the repetition was taking place within seconds of the protagonist's first demise and revival. An interesting element was her body was showing signs of internal scarring the more she was killed off, when her medical professor boyfriend (Charles Aitken) performed a scan on her in the campus hospital.
Unlike Murray's weatherman, Tree doesn't spend hundreds of tries living the same day over and over, she seems aware she may have a finite number to work out who the baby-masked murderer who stalks her actually is. The answer was maybe not any big shock for its genre, your basic serial killer on the loose in a location where young people gather, but like Murray's Phil Connors, Miss Gelbman learns to be a better person from her experiences, eventually treating folk well rather than taking them for granted and not concerning herself about what they may be feeling, good or bad. That was the attraction to this fantasy, where you could, with practice, live a perfect day where everything went right and you went to sleep knowing you had succeeded in making the world a better place rather than a worse one. There was a further twist here that was perfectly reasonable, leaving the impression not of anything hugely audacious, but an amusing variation on a familiar property. Music by Bear McCreary.