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How Can An Irresistible Movie Premise Like “Happy Death Day” Go This Wrong?

“Happy Death Day” is basically a murder-y “Groundhog Day,” but the execution doesn’t look promising. How did we get here?

How Can An Irresistible Movie Premise Like “Happy Death Day” Go This Wrong?

WHAT: The first preview for Happy Death Day, a film that squanders its amazing premise to a staggering degree.

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WHO: Christopher B. Landon, the writer/director behind the Latino spinoff entry of the Paranormal Activity franchise: The Marked Ones.

WHY WE CARE: “Give me the pitch, boys!” a harried film executive demands from his team of screenwriters, because that’s how movies work. “Well, what if we do Groundhog Day, but it’s the day Bill Murray gets murdered and he keeps reliving the day until he solves the murder?” one of them suggests. The executive rubs the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes. Then he presses a button and hundreds upon hundreds of tiny “green lights” crash down onto his desk as he nods slowly, a slight smile creeping in. The screenwriters bruise the palms of their hands from high-fiving too much. Anyway, that is how I assume Happy Death Day came to be greenlit. It would be understandable if so, anyway; this premise is rad. So how is it possible that the resulting film looks so uninspired?

Yes, it’s only the trailer and not the whole film, but there seems to be enough evidence here to conclude that what could have been a box office blast will instead be a Netflix maybe at best. First of all, there’s that name. Happy Death Day goes the Groundhog Day route of naming the film after the day itself, rather than the impossible situation of that day being locked in a recursive loop. It shouldn’t have worked for Groundhog Day, but it did. It definitely doesn’t work for Happy Death Day, mainly because Death Day isn’t a thing, leaving this title sounding like late-period Steven Seagal (see for example Half Past Kill. Or don’t!)

Also, the cast is mostly unknown, the tone feels mid-2000s campus comedy but with scares, and the song that takes the place of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You, Babe” as repeating alarm clock is 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” whose incongruity to the situation is neither pointed nor interesting. It’s a challenging intellectual exercise to consider where this film went wrong. Maybe it was by adhering so close to the Groundhog Day formula as to seem closer to parody than homage. Maybe it was always doomed. Or is Fast Company rushing to judgement, and there’s a chance this will be the next Scream? Let us know on Twitter, and then do it again tomorrow so we feel like we keep re-living the same day.