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Retro Review: ‘Happy Death Day’ is another shallow time-loop film

Emma Liu

This article is part of the “Retro Review” series. Each month, four films — united by a singular theme — are assessed. The theme for January 2024 is “time loop.”

Should the “time loop” genre exist?

No clue. That’s what this month has come to.

Christopher Landon’s “Happy Death Day” is another shallow installment in the time loop subgenre, full of necessary but annoying repetitiveness and a lack of creativity. Simply put, it’s an objectively bad film, but thankfully, it’s still somewhat enjoyable.

College student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up one morning and finds herself trapped in an endless loop of the same day, which always ends the same way: with her dying. Thus, her journey to find and stop her killer begins, in hopes of staying alive and, well, just making it to tomorrow. 

The influence of “Groundhog Day” is much more apparent, and even explicit, compared to “12 Monkeys,” but that’s not to say that’s a positive thing. Landon’s film is just a slasher version of “Groundhog Day.”

Tree is almost the exact same character as Phil (Bill Murray) from “Groundhog Day.” It’s confusing why filmmakers find a fascination in grump-to-grateful character arcs in this subgenre when, for the most part, this is not something viewers can relate to.

This might be a rather optimistic outlook on society, but for the most part, people aren’t grumpy jerks like Tree or Phil who have to go through these massive character arcs to become okay people. Who is the target audience here? 

It is nice, in the end, to see Tree and Phil become nice people, but that also means, as a viewer, that one has to sit through a good chunk of the movie putting up with a character that is just intolerable. No thanks!

“Happy Death Day” also has no shortage of classic horror film tropes, whether you like them or not. There’s the classic “trip while being chased by one’s killer,” and there are scenes where the viewer asks, “Why on earth would you do that?” Landon sure did stick to the slasher and time loop genres, but maybe a bit too much.

Plenty of negatives, yes, but the overall film is, weirdly, still kind of fun.

Let’s take the script for example. Is it good? No. Does it have bits of sheer brilliant screenwriting that Aaron Sorkin could only dream of emulating? Yep. 

Look no further than when Tree says to her eventual love interest Carter (Israel Broussard),

“Will you please stop staring at me like I took a dump on your mom’s head?”

Finally, viewers can relate to something. Who hasn’t asked this question before?

What’s more, the dialogue somehow gets even better.

When Tree figures out that her killer — her roommate and sorority sister Lori (Ruby Modine) — has been doing so on account of a guy they both liked, this beautiful exchange follows:

 “Wait, you’ve been killing me over some stupid guy?” Tree protests.

 “Oh, that’s not the only reason. You’re a dumb bitch too!” Lori retorts.


There are even some solid jump scare moments in here, such as in her first death scene, which also serves as a bit of a saving grace. 

Though this isn’t exactly a “good” film,  there’s plenty to be entertained by and laugh at — mostly just for its sheer ridiculousness.

About the Contributor
Emma Liu
Emma Liu, Deputy Design Editor
Emma Liu is a second-year behavioral neuroscience and design major. She is currently working as the deputy design editor for The News. Originally from Philadelphia, Emma loves to collect sonny angels, volunteer at local orgs and find good food in her free time.
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