By the end of Happy Death Day, you may be expecting closure, but you'll be hard-pressed to find any. In fact, by the time the credits roll in this Groundhog Dog-esque slasher, it won't be closure you're getting, but cupcakes. (Yes, cupcakes.)
Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is a sorority sister who finds her fate at the pointy end of a knife (or really any other object with a sharp edge), but this isn't your run-of-the-mill whodunit. Instead of meeting her maker after she dies, time mysteriously rewinds and Tree ends up reliving her day over and over again on a seemingly endless cycle. On one particular occasion, Tree refers to herself as a cat with nine lives—which is as close to an explanation to this movie's finale as audience can hope to expect.
Now, in case you're like Tree and you have no idea what the movie Groundhog Day is - or even who Bill Murray is (blasphemy!) - another recent time-looping film that's in the same vein as this one is the Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt sci-fi war picture Edge of Tomorrow (alternatively titled Live Die Repeat). In that film, Cruise relives the same day after dying just like Tree; only in his case, the reason is based in science. In Happy Death Day, it's based in nothing.
Or so it seems.
The lack of a direct explanation as to why Tree is stuck in a grisly time loop doesn't necessarily mean that a possible explanation doesn't exist. The script might not have spelled out every detail for the audience, but that's not to say that Tree's trip down Time Loop Lane was all for naught. And in fact, the reason may even elevate the film beyond slasher status and into a more supernatural realm.
Aside from Tree's personal frustrations on campus, the relatively recent death of her mother is her one true Achilles' heel. What makes her mother's death so topical in the context of the film is the fact that, aside from being exceptionally close to her mom, the two shared the same birthday. So, what with Tree's birthday being the one date that this movie revolves around, her emotional fatigue is understandable. In fact, there are more than just a few throwaway gestures toward Tree's dead mother: she relives happier days via a birthday video on her iPad, she can't bear suffering through small talk with her father on account of his emotional distance, and every time she bursts out of the dorm room in which she finds herself in every time she wakes up and restarts her loop cycle, she always manages to leave behind the inscribed bracelet she received from her late mother. (Thankfully, her eventual love interest Carter [Israel Broussard] always remembers to find her and return it.)
So, what's so significant about her late mother in the context of time looping (and by extension, that bracelet)? It's worth considering that Tree isn't as disconnected from her mother as she believed. Assuming you're willing to think outside the box (and this movie definitely expects you to/hopes you will), it's worth considering the fact that Tree's mom isn't as far away as she seems. Perhaps she's pulling some strings from beyond the grave... And while this might seem far-fetched, remember that we're talking about a movie where the main character relives the same day over and over again so that she can solve her own murder.
In fact, when you take into consideration the significance of the bracelet, this seemingly throwaway piece of jewelry might easily represent the connective thread between Tree and her mother, which happens to take on a more symbolically active role than when she was alive. Every holiday has some supernatural icon to which it's attributed (Santa on Christmas, leprechauns on St. Patrick's Day, the Easter Bunny on Easter), so why should birthdays be any different? Assuming that screenwriter Scott Lobdell is positing the idea that the living and the dead can share supernatural bonds (it's already been made clear that Tree and her mother sharing a birthday signifies an especially potent connection), then maybe Tree's mom is her personal birthday attaché - in the event that Tree is in mortal danger, at least.
No mom is going to just sit back and allow her children to suffer the wrath of some petty, disgruntled lunatic—whether they happen to be buried six feet underground or not. But again, given the lack of explanation at the end of Happy Death Day, a solid understanding of why things actually happened the way they happened is up for speculative grabs. By no means is any understanding of this ending "official."
So, with all that being said, let's just get back to those cupcakes...
Time looping aside, when it comes down to solving the murder mystery aspect of this movie, the whodunit angle is summed up simply enough (if not in a slightly tongue-in-cheek sort of way). After Tree wastes a significant amount of time facing off against the red herring that is a local, hospitalized serial killer, a false ending forces her to dig deeper.
Afraid that she might be cursed to this time loop forever, Tree comes to the conclusion that she messed up. Her sleuthing was wrong. And it's not until she connects the thread between A) dying in her sleep, B) eating the made-from-scratch cupcake from her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), and C) Lori harboring some serious jealousy issues against Tree that she discovers the truth. Lori poisoned the cupcake. Lori wanted her dead. Lori is the reason this whole time loop mess was ever set into motion in the first place.
For some audiences, the ending for Happy Death Day may not sit as well with them as they might have hoped it would. It's open-ended, it's lacking answers, and it's got a motive that isn't exactly groundbreaking. When Tree discovers that Lori wants her dead all because of some boy issues, she seems just as let down as the audience. But hey - at least she gets to live!
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